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Courage, boys, 'tis one to ten
GAY never attempted real comedy as Addison and Steele, his contemporaries, did. They both failed. Gay, who did not presume to call his piece a comedy, yet came very near to writing in the right comedy vein. His celebrated 'Beggar's Opera' was, it is recorded, the expansion into dramatic form of a suggestion of Dean Swift to write a Newgate pastoral. Neither Swift nor his friend and associate Gay were troubled with those moralizing tendencies of the age which may have hindered Addison and Steele in the attainment of comedy-consequently Gay's clear genius for the stage, his wit, and his knowledge of the world, suffered no hindrance when he attempted comedy-writing. The 'Beggar's Opera' is, in fact, rather the parody of a comedy interspersed with songs than a true opera, but there are passages in it which, abating some necessary absurdity, are wholly in the comedy vein. The play is unfortunately too gross for a more liberal extract than has been given. In reading the 'Beggar's Opera,' it is good to remember the wonderful success of the play in its own day. Phrases from it passed as catch-words in society, and its admirable songs were painted on ladies' fans.
THE BEGGAR'S OPERA
THE 'Beggar's Opera' begins with a short introduc
tory dialogue between a Player and the Beggar who is the supposed author of the opera.
The plot turns upon the adventures of the gallant and dashing Captain Macheath, the leader of a band of highwaymen who dispose of their booty to two informers and receivers of stolen goods, Peachum and Lockit, the Newgate gaoler. Macheath has privately married Polly, Peachum's daughter, and Lucy Lockit thinks she has equal claims upon him. Polly's parents upbraid her with her marriage, and urge her to betray Macheath into their hands. She refuses, but Peachum soon after succeeds in arresting him through the treachery of some of his gang.
In Newgate, Macheath is visited by the two rivals Polly and Lucy. By stealing her father's keys Lucy contrives his escape, but before long he is once more taken captive, is sentenced to instant execution for breaking prison, and led off by the sheriff's officers.
The Beggar and Player of the Introduction now reappear, and the Player expostulates with the Beggar on the impropriety of so tragic a termination to the opera as the hanging of Captain Macheath. The Beggar, upon this, consents to allow the catastrophe to be averted; Captain Macheath is reprieved, declares his marriage with Polly, and the opera ends with dance and song.