The Beggar's Opera
Similarly, John Gay’s 1728 piece, The Beggar’s Opera, was predicated upon the contrasts between Augustan poetry wit and sentimentalism. Indeed, the opera is itself based upon the contradictions that London embodied during the eighteenth century. The entire premise of the opera was a witty satire upon the theater of manners that prevailed in the period. In The Beggar’s Opera, Gay revealed that unique social hierarchies and codes of comportment also governed the criminal underworld and the lower social classes. Gay satirized not only the pretensions of then-current lyric opera, but also the assumptions of the upper class regarding the behavior of their socioeconomic subordinates.
Although The Beggar’s Opera is harshly satirical, it is, like Pope’s Dunciad, based upon Gay’s perception of deep rifts in British society. While many of the characters are more caricatures than finely-drawn, realistic portraits, Gay injects sincere emotion into the unfolding drama, particularly in his portrayal of the limited social choices and roles available to women in the eighteenth century. In this way, the play embodies the double-voiced discourse that characterizes many texts from this era.