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Assigned: The Beggar's Opera (2611-56).
The Beggar's Opera
1. In the Prologue, what is the point of making the "Beggar" (Gay's fictional author) converse with the Player (i.e. an actor)? How does the Beggar size up what he will have accomplished with his opera by the evening's end? What does he see as his responsibilities towards the audience?
2. In Scenes 1-4, what exactly does Peachum do for a living -- what sorts of concerns press upon him and his wife? How would you describe his station in life?
3. In Scenes 4-5, what do Mr. and Mrs. Peachum say about women and marriage at this point -- before they find out about Polly's secret marriage to the highway robber Macheath?
4. In Scenes 7-10, how do Mr. and Mrs. Peachum react to (and then manage) the news of their daughter Polly's marriage with Macheath? What outlook on life asserts itself in the remarks the parents make in the course of these scenes?
5. In Scenes 11-13, what feelings does Polly reveal towards Macheath? What challenge does her outlook pose to that of her parents? How do the brief songs or "airs" that pepper her conversation with Macheath relate to prose parts of that conversation?
6. In Scenes 1-2, what sort of company does Macheath keep? What plans does he make with them regarding the trap that he now knows Polly's parents are going to set for him?
7. In Scenes 3-8, what does Macheath reveal about his treatment of Polly and his attitude towards women more generally? How does the conversation and behavior of Macheath's prostitute friends in Scene 4 make fun of the upper classes? That is, explain with the help of this scene the satirical method that John Gay employs effectively throughout the opera.
8. In Scene 9, how does Macheath try to placate his other lover, Lucy Lockit (the jailor's daughter), who is pregnant by him? And in Scene 10, how do Peachum and Lockit manage the quarrel that arises between them?
9. In Scenes 11-15, how does the rivalry between Polly and Lucy develop? Why does Lucy agree to help Macheath escape from jail? What differences have you found so far between Polly and Lucy in the way they view their respective relationships with Macheath?
10. In Scene 1, how does Lockit react to the fact that his own daughter Lucy has helped Macheath escape? And in Scenes 2-3, what is Lockit's plan for undermining his "friend" Peachum's designs on the now at-large prisoner? What is Filch up to in Scene 3?
11. In Scenes 5-6, who is Mrs. Trapes, and how does she fit into Peachum and Lockit's plan to recapture Macheath? How does Mrs. Trapes regard her co-conspirators, and (as throughout the opera) what elements in these scenes amount to a satirical comment on the upper classes?
12. In Scenes 7-10, what is Lucy trying to do to Polly? Why doesn't she succeed? How do the two women explain their situation and feelings about men to each other?
13. In Scenes 11-15 (the play's climax), how does Macheath hold up against the fate that now confronts him once he has been recaptured? How does he sum up his career and the events that have brought him to this point? What are his thoughts about women and wives in particular?
14. In Scenes 16-17, the Beggar strides onto the stage and explains to the Player why he has decided to change the course of the play so abruptly from tragedy to comedy. What is his reasoning on this point? With what observations does Macheath himself cap off the opera, and in what sense might the audience relate to his final point on a broader level as social commentary?
Edition: Abrams, M. H. et al, eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Vol. C. New York: Norton, 2006. ISBN Package 1 (Vols. ABC) 0-393-92833-0.