Setting for Success
John Gay s ballad opera, The Beggar s Opera was staged in London in 1728 and had a run of sixty two performances. It was recognised as being a sharp satire of the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, and his Whig regime. The thesis places the opera in it s geographical and historical setting. The success of The Beggar s Opera is explained by its relevance to the theatre-goer who recognised the sordid London life portrayed in short dialogue and songs sung to well-known folk melodies, some in existence today. John Gay s motivation for writing the piece is examined in its context, and the play is analysed to tell the story and bring out the satirical element. This is also included in a description of London, both as a social anthropologic exercise and as seen through the eyes of contemporary poets (The Scriblerians) in opposition to the government. John Gay s own description of London is also included.
The question posed by this thesis is what made the opera such a success. The answer is given as its readily recognisable setting and satire. This was in strong contrast to theatre at the time which was often in Italian, and in the form of serious opera. The vulgar, bawdy nature of The Beggar s Opera as described in this thesis must have been a refreshing innovation,contributing to its success.