The Beggar's Opera


The Beggar's Opera - The Pastoral (Satirical Opera

Satirical Opera:

  • Mocking the idea of the elite social class
  • The complexity of the operatic form translated onto British folk songs
    • Moving the complex Italian genre down to the level of the people (Both the audience and characters)
    • Leads to humour (the idea of subversion of societal tropes) and exclusion of the upper class
  • Transgressive nature of the play is a deliberate attempt to subvert the traditional operatic form
  • POISON - Typical operatic trope
    • Gay uses this in a satirical way to preset 2 foolish girls arguing about a petty love triangle rather than large issues of state and passion often seen in operas. 
    • "I never could be hang'd for any thing that would give me greater comfort, than the poysoning of the ****" (A3, S8)
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The Beggar's Opera - The Pastoral (Highwaymen vers

  • Gay presents a union between the very high and very low in society
    • "Through the whole piece, you may observe a similitude of manner is high and low life, that it is difficult to determine whether fine gentlemen imitate gentlemen of the road or gentlemen of the road the fine gentlemen"
  • Social morality inversion
    • Highwaymen presented as the romantic hero
      • Lucy and Polly's feud shows that there is no true amity between friends when one's goal exceeds the other. However, this is only contrasted by Macheath and his 2 best friends, Matt of the Mint and Ben Budge:
      • Macheath lends them money out of goodness rather than material gain as seen so often in other parts of the play - "When my friends are in difficulties, I am always glad that my fortune can be serviceable to them" (A3, S4)
      • 'Is Gay arguing that there is more 'honour among thieves' than in statemen and gentlemen?
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The Beggar's Opera - The Pastoral (Social Hierarch

  • Social hierarchy and the notion of heroes versus villains is negated in place of amorality
    • Gay avoids a clear dichotomy of good and evil
    • Everyone is seen as a villain for their inability to transcend their social situation and self -interest, regardless of social hierarchy // status.
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The Beggar's Opera - The Pastoral (Ending)

  • The ending satirises the idea of the elitist operatic form further
    • "An opera must have a happy ending"
    • "Let the prisoner be brought back to his wives in triumph"
  • What is transgressive about the play is not the actions themselves but that there is no judgement or retribution for them.
    • There is not cathartic ending in which societal norms and values are restored
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The Beggar's Opera - The Pastoral (Equality)

  • Gay satirises inequalities between social classes
    • Depictions of the powerful rich and the desperate poor are shown through the commodity of human life and the people that have the ability to decide who lives and who dies
    • This is ironic because this microcosmic idea of social class that is presented has no bearing on macrocosmic social positions; they are all still lower class citizens.
  • Gay Argues that despite social class, all men are inherently corrupt and self-interested
    • Inequality due to hypocrisy rather than virtue
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