‘Whore and rogue they call husband and wife:
All professions be-rogue one another’
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 satire at the expense of the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Gay’s highly original depiction of the thieves, informers, prostitutes and highwaymen thronging the slums and prisons of the corrupt London underworld proved brilliantly successful in exposing the dark side of a corrupt and jaded society.
Bryan Loughrey and T. O. Treadwell’s introduction examines the eighteenth-century background of musical theatre and opera, the changing cityscape of London and the corruption of the legal system. This edition also includes a note on the music in The Beggar’s Opera and suggestions for further reading.