Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Beggar's Opera by John Gay (3/5)

First published: 1728
Page count: 128

GoodReads says: ‘Whore and rogue they call husband and wife:
All professions be-rogue one another'

The tale of Peachum, thief-taker and informer, conspiring to send the dashing and promiscuous highwayman Macheath to the gallows, became the theatrical sensation of the eighteenth century. In The Beggar’s Opera, John Gay turned conventions of Italian opera riotously upside-down, instead using traditional popular ballads and street tunes, while also indulging in political satire at the expense of the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Gay’s highly original depiction of the thieves, informers, prostitutes and highwaymen thronging the slums and prisons of the corrupt London underworld proved brilliantly successful in exposing the dark side of a corrupt and jaded society.

I say: I found this play somewhat hilarious, but perhaps for all the wrong reasons. There were so many uncalled for insults that made me guffaw and snicker and really wonder if Gay intended them to be funny or if I just have a sick sense of humour.

Oh how I wish I could see this on stage.

The gist of the story is that Peachum’s daughter Polly says that she’s married to highwayman Macheath – much to her parents’ chagrin, so they intend to have him hanged so that Polly can inherit whatever he owns. While in prison it is found out that Lucy Lockit, the jail keeper’s daughter, also claims to be married to Macheath. Lucy helps him escape and then Peachum and Lockit try to find out how to get rid of him in order to save their daughters.

All in all it was a rather entertaining plot, although I was annoyed by the interrupting songs after every few seconds of dialogue. Songs are always annoying when read, but they were short and witty. One thing that really annoyed me was the abundance of ‘wench’, ‘slut’, ‘hussy’ and other such degrading terms for the female characters. It was told from a very male chauvinistic point of view, which I found a tad grating (but could almost overlook considering how long ago it was written).

In my passionate research google search I found a few versions of this on YouTube, so I may well sit down and watch one of them someday.

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