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Triple portrait of John Lacy by John Michael Wright, 1668-70. Lacy is in three of his most celebrated roles. From left to right: the lead from Sauny the Scot: or The Taming of The Shrew (Lacy's own adaptation from Shakespeare performed at the Theatre Royal in 1667); Monsieur Device from The Country Chaplain (by the Duke of Newcastle); and Parson Scruple from The Cheats (by John Wilson).

John Lacy (c. 1615? – 17 September 1681) was an English comic actor and playwright during the Restoration era. In his own time he gained a reputation as "the greatest comedian of his day"[1] and was the favourite comic of King Charles II.


Lacy was born in or near Doncaster; in 1631 he became an apprentice of John Ogilby, when Ogilby was functioning as what was then called a "dancing master"—roughly the equivalent of a modern dance teacher and choreographer. Lacy's stage career began by 1639, when he was a member of Beeston's Boys.

Lacy joined the royalist forces in the English Civil War, and was commissioned an officer (lieutenant and quartermaster). After the English Interregnum period, once Charles II returned to the throne and the London theatres re-opened, Lacy became an actor with the newly formed King's Company.[2]

Lacy quickly evolved into a popular comedian; Samuel Pepys admired and enjoyed his work, as he recorded in his Diary. On 21 May 1662, Pepys saw Lacy in as the title character in a play called The French Dancing-Mistress; on the next day he saw Lacy as Johnny Thump in James Shirley's Love in a Maze. On 12 June 1663 Pepys saw Lacy in Sir Robert Howard's The Committee, and praised Lacy's acting in the role of the Irish footman Teague as "beyond imagination;" on 13 August 1667, Pepys saw the same play, and called Lacy's part "so well performed that it would set off anything." Pepys saw Lacy in his own Sauny the Scot on 9 April 1667.[3]

Lacy was also known for the role of Galliard in the Duke of Newcastle's play The Variety, and Scruple in John Wilson's The Cheats. He played roles in Ben Jonson's comedies: Ananias in The Alchemist, Captain Otter in Epicene, and Sir Politic Would-Be in Volpone. According to Sir George Etheredge, Lacy was the lover of Nell Gwyn along with the King's Company star Charles Hart.[4] After a serious illness in 1668, Lacy recovered and returned to the stage, though he performed less often than before.


Lacy is credited with the authorship of four plays:

  • Sauny the Scot (acted 1667; printed 1698)
  • The Dumb Lady, or The Farrier Made Physician (printed 1672)
  • The Old Troop, or Monsier Ragou (printed 1672)
  • Sir Hercules Buffoon, or The Poetical Squire (printed 1684).

Lacy was more of an adapter than an original artist, however (a not-unusual trait among Restoration dramatists). Sauny the Scot is a prose version of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. In Lacy's version, Grumio becomes Sauny, a clown who dominates the play, and a role played by Lacy himself.[5] Sir Hercules Buffoon draws upon Philip Massinger's The City Madam and A New Way to Pay Old Debts. The Dumb Lady derives from Molière's Le Médecin malgré lui.


His popularity with Charles II did not prevent Lacy from getting into significant trouble at one point in his career. On 15 April 1667 Pepys saw Lacy play in The Change of Crowns, by Edward Howard. The King and Queen were in the audience, along with the Duke of York and his Duchess, and "all the Court". During the performance, Lacy improvised some lines about corruption at Court and the selling of offices. The King was so angry that he had the company banned from performing; and Lacy was incarcerated. Lacy was released on 20 April and had a confrontation with "Ned" Howard; Lacy unreasonably blamed Howard for the trouble he had got himself into with the King. The two theatre men came to blows: Howard hit Lacy in his face with a glove, and Lacy responded by striking Howard over the head with his cane.[6]

The actors prevailed upon the King to allow them to return to the stage, and Lacy was soon forgiven.


  1. ^ Fox, p. 105.
  2. ^ See Maidment and Logan's edition of Lacy's Works, Prefatory Memoir, p. xi.
  3. ^ Maidment and Logan, pp. xi-xii.
  4. ^ Maidment and Logan, p. xvii.
  5. ^ Halliday, pp. 270, 484.
  6. ^ Maidment and Logan, pp. xii-xiii.


  • Fox, Adam. Oral and Literate Culture in England, 1500–1700. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Halliday, F. E. A Shakespeare Companion 1564–1964. Baltimore, Penguin, 1964.
  • Lacy, John. The Dramatic Works of John Lacy. edited by James Maidment and W. H. Logan; Edinburgh, William Paterson, 1875.

External links

8 Annotations

First Reading

Wim van der Meij  •  Link

Warrington has this: "Lacy had been brought up a dancingmaster. He afterwards procured a lieutenant's commission in the army, which he soon quitted for the stage, and was the author of four plays. He died 1681 and was buried in the churchyard of St. Martin-in-the-fields.

JWB  •  Link

John Lacy, The Restoration Drama
Dramatic Works:

"The Dumb Lady, or the Farrier Made Physician. A comedy. 1672.

The Old Troop, or Monsieur Ragout. A comedy acted at the Theatre Royal, 1672, 1698.

Sir Hercules Buffoon, or the Poetical Squire. A comedy acted at the Duke

in Aqua scripto  •  Link

According to L&M an Actor who specialised in Accents, played Teague in yesterdays [12 june] play

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

LACY, JOHN (d. 1681), dramatist and comedian; attached to Charles II's (Killigrew's) company of actors; his acting commended by Pepys and Evelyn; his best play 'The Old Troop, or Monsieur Raggou,' written before 1665 (printed, 1672); the original Bayes of the 'Rehearsal,' 1671.
---Dictionary of National Biography: Index and Epitome. S. Lee, 1906.

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

John Lacy (1615–1681), playwright and actor, born near Doncaster, Yorkshire, went in 1631 to London where he was apprenticed to the dancing-master John Ogilby, who ran a school in Gray's Inn Lane.

Later renowned for dialect-based performances, John Lacy is said to have furnished Ben Jonson with northern dialect terms and proverbs for his 1630s drama (copinions varies as to whether this was for A Tale of a Tub, c.1633, or The Sad Shepherd, 1637, although the north midlands setting of the latter makes that more likely).

In 1639 Lacy is recorded as acting in the company of the Cockpit Theatre.

John Lacy’s wife, Margaret, is referred to by contemporaries but little is known about her. Elias Ashmole's diary refers to the baptism of Lacy's second son on 17 March, 1665.

During the English civil wars John Lacy served as a lieutenant and quartermaster under Col. Charles Gerard, later the earl of Macclesfield.

At the Restoration, John Lacy was a founder member of Thomas Killigrew's King's Company at the Theatre Royal and became one of its star performers.

Like other early Restoration actors, John Lacy played some female parts, despite the introduction of actresses, taking the lead in The French Dancing Mistress in 1662.

Among other roles, John Lacy played Scruple the nonconformist in John Wilson's comedy The Cheats in 1662

John Lacy played Teague in Sir Robert Howard's The Committee in 1663. Samuel Pepys witnessed the performance, remarking it was 'a merry but an indifferent play' but Lacy's performance as an Irish footman was 'beyond imagination' (Pepys, 12 June 1663).

On seeing John Lacy in the part on another occasion, Pepys observed his role was 'so well performed that it would set off anything' (Pepys, 13 Aug 1667).
John Evelyn also saw John Lacy perform this role, praising it in his diary.
John Lacy also made a name for himself in several revivals of pre-civil war play texts, including James Shirley's The Changes, or, Love in a Maze — of which Pepys remarked 'The play is pretty good, but the life of the play is Lacy's part, the Clowne' (Pepys, 4.179, 10 June 1663) — and several plays by Ben Jonson: between 1664 and 1665, as well as Ananias, he played Captain Otter in Epicoene, or, The Silent Woman and Sir Politic Would-Be in Volpone.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


About this time John Lacy began to write plays, some of which were adaptations of existent texts.
The Old Troop, or, Monsieur Raggou made use of his civil war experiences and influenced Sir Walter Scott's 19th-century novel Woodstock.
Lacy is believed to have played the part of Raggou, a French servant, in the original 1664–5 production.
The Old Troop, or, Monsieur Raggou was published in 1672. It deals with the resentment felt in the English countryside (justified in the play) towards the cavalier soldiers who were billeted on villages between 1642 and 1649.

In 1666, as well as speaking the 'Epilogue' in Sir Robert Howard's The Vestal Virgin, John Lacy played Sir Roger in a revival of Beaumont and Fletcher's The Scornful Lady.

John Lacy wrote an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, entitled Sauny the Scot. This was performed at the Theatre Royal in 1667.
Lacy may have played Petruchio in an earlier revival of Shakespeare's drama which inspired his version. There is no evidence of this but Sauny the Scot stays close to its Shakespearian forebear until the final act.
The influence of John Fletcher's version, The Woman's Prize, or, The Tamer Tamed (c.1611), can also be felt. Nevertheless, Lacy's appropriation of the play for the Restoration is significant.
He turns a largely verse drama into prose, and relocates the story from Renaissance Italy to contemporary London.
Lucentio, the Paduan student of the original, becomes Winlove, an Oxford graduate, and an opposition between town and country is established in the play.
Margaret is the equivalent of Katherina and may represent the changing sexual and social mores of the Restoration times so her part is expanded to allow for a sustained rebellion against Petruchio in the final act.
The title character, Sauny, is a Scottish version of Grumio, Petruchio's servant, and was probably played by John Lacy: Sauny makes comic matter of English niceties and is constantly 'Scratten and Scrubben' himself (ii.i.25).

Another dialect part was John Lacy's Sir Hercules Buffoon, or, The Poetical Squire, staged presumably in 1684. In this play, a Yorkshire heiress speaks in a dialect form like Lacy's native Doncaster: 'Marra, the devilst learn French for me. By my saul, ean Yorkshire word, nuncle, s'worth ten thousand French eans' (ii.ii).
The title character is a country squire, the nephew of Alderman Buffoon.
Anxious to see the players while in London, in the tradition of country gulls, he falls prey to wiser city folk who make him an apprentice of their poetical society by forcing him through an initiation ceremony.
Buffoon exhibits his lack of judgement by preferring John Taylor the Water Poet over Ben Jonson, etc.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


In 1667 John Lacy appeared in Edward Howard's controversial satire on the court of Charles II, entitled The Change of Crowns (never published).
Charles and Queen Catherine went to see the production on 15 April, 1667. Samuel Pepys tried to see it the next day the play had already been altered.
Lacy, according to Pepys, 'did act the Country Gentleman come up to Court, who doth abuse the Court with all the imaginable wit and plainness, about selling of places and doing everything for money' (Pepys, 15 April 1667).
Charles II is said to have been so angered by the play that he detained John Lacy in the porter's lodge. He was pardoned, but the play remained under censure.
The dramatist Edward Howard (younger son of the Earl of Berkshire and brother to playwright Sir Robert Howard) and John Lacy are said to have quarreled shortly after.

In 1667, despite serious illness, John Lacy performed in a revival of The Changes.
Subsequent parts included Bayes in Buckingham's The Rehearsal in 1671,
Drench in his own play The Dumb Lady, or, The Farrier Made Physician (1672), an adaptation (not much liked) of Molière's Le médecin malgré lui and L'amour médecin
(he also played the lead role in Molière's Tartuffe),
Alderman Gripe in Wycherley's Love in a Wood, or, St. James's Park at Lincoln's Inn (still with Killigrew's company),
and Intrigo in Sir Francis Fane's Love in the Dark, or The Man of Business.
John Lacy may also have played Falstaff.

The Dumb Lady tells the story of a woman (Olinda) about to be married but who appears to have fallen mute. Some characters reflect this is unsurprising because she is to be married to a fop: the aptly named Squire Softhead. They inform her father who is anxious for the match: 'Do you think your daughter had not better be dumb and dead than marry such a ridiculous brute as this?' (i.i, p. 14).
Once again, John Lacy's drama exhibits considerable empathy for its women characters.
A physician is sent to attend to Olinda's ailment and Jarvis and Softhead are tricked by Isabel into believing her husband Drench (the part played by Lacy) to be a physician. A great deal of farce ensues.
Farce in the French style appears to have been the form Lacy most favored in his own compositions.

Contemporaries alleged John Lacy had a relationship with Nell Gwyn. Certainly, he gave her acting and dancing lessons.

John Lacy kept up his dancing skills, adding dances to the entr'actes of, for example, Horace in 1668.
John Lacy died on 17 September, 1681 at his home in Drury Lane and was buried in the churchyard of St. Martin-in-the-Fields 2 days later.

This is an abbreviated version of the ODNB biography:…

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.