The first woman to appear on English stage

On December 8, 1660, Margaret Hughes was the first woman to appear on English stage. She played Desdemona in the Shakespearean play Othello as part of King’s Company at the Vere Street Theater in London. (There is some uncertainty, and some people maintain that Anne Marshall was the actress.)

Until this time, women had been banned from appearing on stage. King Charles II, however, was watching a play when the action suddenly stopped. When he sent servants to see why, they found that the man playing one of the female parts was still shaving. Aghast the King issued a decree that all female roles be played only by women.

Interestingly, women were never banned from Asian theater where there were all-male troupes, all-women, and mixed theatrical players.

 Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Peter Lely (1618-1680) which is generally accepted to be a likeness of Margaret Hughes currently resides in Tate Britain (formerly known as the National Gallery of Art and the Tate Gallery)

Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Peter Lely (1618-1680) which is generally accepted to be a likeness of Margaret Hughes currently resides in Tate Britain (formerly known as the National Gallery of Art and the Tate Gallery)
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