John Gay's Use of Music for Satire in The Beggar's Opera Essay

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John Gay's Use of Music for Satire in The Beggar's Opera
John Gay=s The Beggar=s Opera is a rather complex work, despite its apparent simplicity. Critics have interpreted it variously as political satire, moral satire, even (at a stretch) Christian satire. Common to many interpretations is the assertion that the Opera is a satire directed at both the politics and the art of its day. A fairly conventional interpretation of the play and its composition shows that it is, and was intended by its author to be, specifically a satire of Italian opera and of the aristocrats that patronized that form. While that interpretation is not in doubt, because critics almost universally agree about it in the
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At the end of the play, the Beggar and Player return to further insult opera. The Player says AAn opera must end happily@ (III.xvi), to which the Beggar replies by indicating that he can create a happy ending, because A*tis no matter how absurdly things are brought about@ in opera. additionally, the composer and performer do these things Ato satisfy the taste of the town,@ thus assigning blame for the banality of opera to its audiences.
Gay was motivated to satirize opera because of its immense popularity, as William Schultz says: In 1728 (the year of the Opera=s premiere) Italian opera was firmly settled as a popular fashion. People of all ranks...flocked to hear the foreign compositions, as well as English pieces in a similar style. (136)
Italian opera was so very popular that it eroded native English music and musical styles. Musical productions of anything besides opera were poorly funded by patrons, if funded at all, and often failed. The sixty-nine ballads of Gay=s Opera are native English tunes for which Gay wrote new lyrics. And the work was a very successful strike against the foreign art form, as well as a revitalization of the somewhat sagging English musical tradition (for a fuller discussion of the historical circumstances, see Schultz ). At

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