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The great lords and powerful public officials of early eighteenth-century England are represented as highwaymen and thieves in this deliciously satirical ballad opera. In addition to its burlesque of the contemporary vogue for Italian operatic styles, John Gay's 1728 masterpiece ridicules a broad spectrum of political figures and social conventions—marriage, lawyers, trade, and even Walpole, the prime minister.
Depicting crime and vice at every level of society, The Beggar's Opera offers a witty and powerful indictment of greed, hypocrisy, and corruption in all social classes. When Peachum, a receiver of stolen goods, discovers that a notorious highwayman has eloped with his daughter, the wily old villain turns informer and collects the reward money as his prospective son-in-law is hauled off to prison. Events take an increasingly absurd turn as the dashing outlaw romances the jailer's daughter and effects an escape, only to return to the shadow of the gallows for a farcical climax that parodies the sentimental tragedy of the day.
John Gay was an English playwright and poet who is most famous for his satirical masterpiece The Beggar s Opera. Originally employed in the government, Gay turned to writing after losing his position following the death of Queen Anne in 1714. From then on, Gay relied on his income from writing, building up a long list of patrons over the course of his career, and making contact with some of the most famous writers of the time, including Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope (and with whom he was a member of the informal society of authors and thinkers known as the Scriblerus Club). After losing the majority of his fortune to a bad investment, Gay eventually found his greatest success in The Beggar s Opera, a ballad opera that satirized society and government, and which ran for sixty-two nights upon its initial release. Gay died on December 4, 1732, at the age of forty-seven, and is buried in Westminster Abbey.
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