The Beggar's Opera

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General Reading Questions

  1. Howard and Patterson describe the 18th century theater has having a central "social function." As you read, consider what that social function might be for Gay's ballad opera.
  2. What is satire? What is Gay satirizing in The Beggar's Opera? Point to specific passages in the text that can help us understand the range of things he's satirizing. To help you answer this question, consider some of the specific comparisons that appear in the text.
  3. How does he satirize his targets? What techniques does he use?
  4. The play opens with a scene between a beggar and a player. What is the purpose of this scene? What does Gay seem to be suggesting about theater? Consider the closing scene, as well. Is poetry for sale here?
  5. How does the play represent women - what images are used to represent women? Watch especially for flowers, gold, animals.
  6. Is MacHeath a hero? What kind of hero is he?
  7. How does this play understand marriage? What is the relationship between love and commerce or exchange?
  8. In this underworld of thieves, whores, and other rogues, self-interest drives all actions, corrupting all social and political orders. Is there anything that seems uncorrupted by self-interest?
  9. This play was exceptionally popular during the 18th century. What do you think made it so popular?
  10. What kind of picture of human nature does the play present us with? Consider the previous question, too—if this play was so popular, and it gives its audience such a cynical view of human nature, why would they watch it?

[some of these questions adapted from Elizabeth Henckdorn Cook]

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