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The Beggar's Opera

3.43  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,997 Ratings  ·  84 Reviews
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 sa
Paperback, 128 pages
Published August 28th 1986 by Penguin Classics (first published 1728)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Feb 02, 2013 David rated it did not like it
Anybody in their right mind shouldn't willingly read this. If you have to read this for school, don't bother and read the synopsis on wiki. Life is too short for this bullshit.
Jan 06, 2010 Old-Barbarossa rated it really liked it
Probably received like Trainspotting in the 18th cent. Tarts and highwaymen, cheap gin, betrayal, bigamy...and songs.
Social satire that still has an edge.
Shorter than I thought it would be.
Like to see it performed though.
Did Adam Ant read or see it? Dandy Highwayman indeed...
Emery Lee
Although it may be odd to read a musical, this is fascinating to me! It was written for the stage and employed many popular tunes from the day (1728). Here's a sample from Page 29

"A fox may steal your Hens, Sir
A Whore your Helath and Pence, Sir
Your Daughter robs your chest, Sir
Your wife may Steal you Rest, Sir.
A Thief you Goods and Plate.
But this is all but picking
With Rest, Pence, Chest and Chicken;
It ever was decreed, Sir,
If Lawyer's Hend is fee'd , Sir
He steals you whole Estate.

Another from
Noelia Alonso
Oct 25, 2015 Noelia Alonso rated it liked it
It was actually not as bad and difficult as I thought it would be.
Justin Evans
Aug 15, 2012 Justin Evans rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry-and-drama
Very strange to read this in the 21st century. These days everyone treats the poor/disadvantaged etc very nicely (well, everyone except Martin Amis). For his time, you might say the same of Gay, but every character in this book full of poor people is a criminal or scumbag of some other kind. So not so sympathetic. On the other hand, that's a good thing: there's no way you can depict the evils of poverty without making the impoverished at least a little offputting. If they're all nice and happy, ...more
I recall being told once upon a time that the poet John Gay was an ancestor, and I formed an intention to read something of his. And then there was a reference to The Beggar's Opera and the Three Penny Opera in something I was reading on the kindle, which made it dead easy to download a copy to satisfy my curiosity.

Meh. Satire doesn't hold up very well over time. Likely a production could be very winning, particularly if filmed by Tim Burton, but the script isn't much, nor terribly amusing. Stil
Dan Gorman
I did a fast read of this play, which was later remade as The Threepenny Opera. Published in 1728, John Gay's satire used folk airs instead of Italian-style opera music and reworked a recent incident of warring gangsters into a sex comedy. Captain Macheath, a master thief, marries Polly, the daughter of master fence Peachum, and sets off a war between himself and his father-in-law. Meanwhile, Macheath must dodge Lucy, his mistress, and Jenny, his former mistress, and try not to get arrested. Ult ...more
Apr 16, 2016 Phillip rated it liked it
Shelves: drama
I had tried to read this play/musical once before and couldn't get into it, but this time I definitely enjoyed it more. I really don't care for the character of Macheath, who is a total scumbag, and I don't necessarily like that he's the 'hero' of the play (I use that term advisedly, because he's a criminal and a bigamist who uses women for his own advantage). But I actually really like the ending of the play, which is metatheatrical--but I won't say anything else about it to avoid spoilers. Suf ...more
Ann Canann
Apr 12, 2011 Ann Canann rated it really liked it
Shelves: plays
1728 Considered revolutionary at the time because it presented poverty and crime from the point of view of those who lived it. He used popular music of the day. It was set to music by Johann Christoph Pepusch. The characters, including Captain Macheath and Polly Peachum, became household names. It was wildly successful.
Found in "Eighteenth-Century Plays paperback pg.179
Nov 09, 2015 Lyra rated it it was ok

Sehr schwer verständlich. Lieber eine Verfilmung oder Aufführung davon anschauen!

~ Kurzrezension ~

Habe es für die Uni gelesen. Aufgeführt oder verfilmt sicher sehr empfehlenswert, da die Botschaft interessant ist, die Musik sehr eingängig ist und die Mienen und Gesten der Schauspieler helfen, das Gesagte zu verstehen. Unter anderem ist es somit auch leichter, die Witze und den (teilweise echt lustigen) Humor zu verstehen.

Es auf Englisch zu lesen, würde ich (Nicht-Mutttersprachlern) nicht empfeh
Jan 23, 2011 Olivia rated it liked it
Shelves: play
It was very Shakespearean in the sense that the plot could be easily be tweaked to be a Shakespeare play: love met by complications, another woman, people plotting, witty remarks, a fun end - all things that could be a part of a "trage-comedy" like The Tempest, Twelfth Night, etc.
Good, fast read and quite easy to follow along as the language is simple.
Jan 26, 2016 Lela rated it it was amazing
A tragic-comedy opera about the poor scheming their way to a life of riches. Polly's parents after hearing about her marriage hatch a plan to have him hanged to get a part of the money from widowhood. Upon seeing her husband in jail, she becomes aware that he has another wife, Lucy. Lucy helps him escape and her and Polly's father try to find the captain for a race against the widowhood fund.
The end of the opera gives the reader a surprising and comical turn of events as more secrets are exposed
Niamh Macey
Jan 13, 2016 Niamh Macey rated it really liked it
Surprisingly modern language, occasionally hilarious, this play's central focus on the life of crime was a first for theatre-goers in this period. Understandably, overwhelmingly successful for centuries, the twist ending is highly intriguing, leaving a moralistically volatile conclusion. There is a slight underlying feminist bent, but hidden within the disgraceful words of the antagonistic men; within the help and wit of the plentiful women characters; and within the farce made of marriage as a ...more
David Sarkies
Mar 31, 2014 David Sarkies rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Historians
Recommended to David by: Some girl at University
Shelves: comedy
An 18th Century parody of the Italian Opera
23 December 2013

I want to give this play a high score simply because of it's context and content, and as it is one of the only satirical operas that has survived from the early 18th Century should also give this play, or more properly opera, some credit. Now, when we hear the word opera we usually thing of 'it's not over until the fat lady sings' (and then Bart Simpson going 'is she fat enough for you?') and you would actually be quite correct, because
Alexander Laser-robinson
Feb 03, 2013 Alexander Laser-robinson rated it really liked it
Beggar's Opera is a smart and funny comedy that is still surprisingly fresh and resonant to the modern reader. Its intelligence lies in its ability to blend genres, merging the high-class opera of Gay's time with the more low-brow melodies of folk ballads and the spectacle of street performance. One might even argue Gay had created the first modern "musical" in the sense that characters break into catchy songs that do not necessarily add to the plot but enhance the mood of gaiety and wonder that ...more
May 09, 2013 Jesse rated it it was amazing
"Oh Jenny, thou art a dear slut!" Oh Mr. Gay, thou art a dear satirist! This is a play that makes a number of classic reversals - turning noblemen and court ladies into thieves and prostitutes - turning Italian opera into English & Irish folk songs - and turning every moral reflection one would expect inside out (for instance, an affair is okay, but marriage is not to be tolerated!). Although intellectually light, since, essentially, everything rests upon the single insight that the corrupti ...more
May 22, 2015 Jesse rated it liked it
This was really interesting. 18th century noir! The narrative really fell apart by the end, but I think with a work like this, that was really meant to be staged, that's kinda not the point. I loved the interplay of sleazy characters. I feel like if this were extended into a novel (or, in deed, a high-budget TV series) it really could be great, what with all the whores and scumbags to build narrative around. As it is, I am now obsessed with writing a light opera using traditional (or at least re ...more
Victoria Vane
Although it may be odd to read a musical, this is fascinating to me! It was written for the stage and employed many popular tunes from the day (1728). Here's a sample from Page 29

"A fox may steal your Hens, Sir
A Whore your Helath and Pence, Sir
Your Daughter robs your chest, Sir
Your wife may Steal you Rest, Sir.
A Thief you Goods and Plate.
But this is all but picking
With Rest, Pence, Chest and Chicken;
It ever was decreed, Sir,
If Lawyer's Hend is fee'd , Sir
He steals you whole Estate.

Another from
Severus Johnson
It wasn't the worst I've read, but also far from the best. Surprisingly I found the introduction part very helpful and not too boring! (I usually never ever read them) This might be because I'm reading it as part of my course so I need to know more about it, but it explains why the characters are the way they are and really helps you understand the setting!

So for anyone thinking about reading this; please do take time to read the introduction(even if you are like me and think they are boring as
Feb 05, 2009 Hagar rated it it was amazing
This play has all the sweet memories!! :)
First of all...This play is indeed one of the most enjoyable ones! It really suits even our world today...! The topsy-turvy..the upside-down situation we're suffering from! The virtues that are ridicules, the honesty that no longer exists! This play ridicules all the aritistocrates make them laugh at their own follies exhibited in the underground world!! A world of criminals..who see reading as a waste of time, a brainwash,...marriage as a crime of honour
Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount)
Feb 02, 2016 Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount) rated it liked it
Shelves: plays
I also watched the 60's BBC production of this play, which helped flesh out the story a bit. This is an operatic play, so reading it without hearing the songs is a bit dull. This play is supposed to be light entertainment with a bit of social commentary thrown in, and it seems fairly successful, even for a modern audience, but it's not one of my favorite classic plays.
May 08, 2016 Claire rated it liked it
Read for Georgian Literature.
Somehow I didn't review this last time I read it in first term, but nevertheless I re-read it today for my exam. It's such a gem of a play, and I can imagine it'd be interesting to see it performed.
Alison Worrell
May 05, 2014 Alison Worrell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: script-analysis
Hilarious and relevant. If you are looking for a tale reeking of hypocritical scumbags that resemble your every day heroes, look no further. Who said the 18th century was boring?
Nicki Markus
Jan 22, 2016 Nicki Markus rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-drama
I love this play/opera. It was so influential in its day and deserves its reputation.
Jun 30, 2015 Angela rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jolly entertaining, though vicious. I wouldn't mind seeing it performed.
Christian McKay
Jul 16, 2009 Christian McKay rated it liked it
The play itself isn't nearly as fascinating as the history behind it: rookeries, one out of every four houses a gin distillery, thief-catchers threatening their prey with a hanging for the forty pound reward if they didn't bring them a certain amount of stolen goods every week . . . fascinating stuff. I was amazed at the beggar's commentary who announces a happy ending that is, he admits, completely undeserved. Maybe I would've liked the play itself more if I knew more about eighteenth century I ...more
Rachael Spalding
Nov 13, 2015 Rachael Spalding rated it really liked it
Witty satire of Italian opera. Fast read, fun to imagine on a stage
Feb 01, 2015 Casey rated it really liked it
An interesting look at life among the lowly in 18th century England.
Dec 03, 2009 Meg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: plays
This comedy is a bit dated but the companion pieces really helped with that, especially the appendix of the songs. Large parts of the play have to do with parodies of songs popular at the time of its writing, humor that no one today would get. However, looking beyond the topical humor, the rest of it still rings true. Farce about love, marriage, sex, and the reason for getting married are just as relevant today as they were then. The scene where Mrs. Peachum berates Polly for getting married for ...more
Clay Halton
Mar 02, 2014 Clay Halton rated it it was ok
Was horrible to read but would probably be fine to see on the stage.
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  • The Way of the World
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  • The Barber of Seville & The Marriage of Figaro
  • Memoirs of Emma Courtney
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  • Naked Masks: Five Plays
  • The Revenger's Tragedy
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  • The Knight of the Burning Pestle
John Gay was an English poet and dramatist. He is best remembered for The Beggar's Opera (1728), set to music by Johann Christoph Pepusch. The characters, including Captain Macheath and Polly Peachum, became household names.
More about John Gay...

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“A man is always afraid of a woman that loves him too much” 18 likes
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