Beggar's Opera, The

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Beggar's Opera, The. John Gay's ballad opera began its record-breaking run at the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields on 29 January 1728. A satire on Italian opera set in Newgate prison and making use of folk-tunes and popular songs, the ubiquitous references to statesmen, politicians, and ‘great men’ were interpreted as reflections on the conduct of Sir Robert Walpole, the prime minister, who, through the characters of Macheath and Peachum, was likened both to a highwayman and to the thief-taker and racketeer Jonathan Wild. Although the sequel, Polly, was suppressed, Bertolt Brecht subsequently extended the range of Gay's satire in Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) to indict the capitalist system tout court.

J. A. Downie