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E211 Fall 2010 Students' Blog

Holly Martini on John Gay's The Beggar's Opera

Published by admin_main on Sun 14 Nov, 2010

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.

At first in act one scene 13 the reader believes that Macheath is very much in love and devoted to Polly and assumes that the parents are the villains of this play. In this scene he talks of his not wanting to leave her even if her parents are after him. However it is once act two begins and the reader sees his actions in scene 3- 8 that the reader is revealed the true nature of his feelings towards Polly and women in general.

At the beginning of Scene three Macheath opens by saying

"What a fool is a fond Wench! Polly is most confoundedly bit." (P 2629)

This shows that he knows that Polly is in love with him and that he is able to take advantage of her because of it.

He then goes on to say that

"I must have women. There is nothing that unbends the mind like them. Money is not so strong a cordial for the time" (p. 2629)

This shows that Macheath is not only planning to be unfaithful towards Polly it also shows that he treats women as objects in order to distract his mind and compares them to money in this line.

In the opening of Scene 4 Macheath also gives the reader an insight into his true nature when he is addressing all the prostitutes that he knows and his is telling them of the qualities they posses that he likes.
For example he says

"Dolly Trull! Kiss me, you slut: are you as amorous as ever, Hussy? You are always so taken up with stealing hearts, that you don't allow yourself time to steal anything else. (p 2630)

He also says

"Mrs. Vixen, I'm yours, I always loved a women of wit and spirit: they make charming mistresses, but plaguey wives. (p 2630)

Both of these lines shows his demeaning nature towards women and the line where he is talking to Mrs. Vixen shows that he knows that Polly was a good selection for his wife because he is passive and easy to influence and he likes having " women of wit and spirit" for fun instead.

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.

The conversation of all the prostitutes talking about how they use their bodies to distract vendors of expensive silks and other items in order to steal them is comical and makes fun of the upper classes because these women are known as the common but many of them are able to wear and own some of the same things that the upper class use to define themselves as rich. For example women of this time who were upper class would wear the finest silks and jewelry but this scene shows that the prostitutes are able to wear the same items they just steal them instead.

This is shown in the conversations on page 2631
Mrs. Vixen says " there's Molly Brazen hath the olge of a rattlesnake. She riveted a linen draper's eye so fast upon her that he was nicked of three pieces of cambric before he could look off."

Another example is when Mrs. Coaxer says, " If any women hath more art then another, to be sure, "tis Jenny Diver. Though her fellow be never so agreeable, she can pick his pocket as coolly, as if money were her only pleasure. Now that is a command of the passions uncommon in a woman!"

This line not only talks about how these women steal but also speaks to the point that these women are more controlled and smarter in some ways then an upper class woman because they are not so easily influenced by love or a man because they can steal from them with no feelings of passion or love towards them. Where as an upper class woman is only talking to a man in order to find a husband.

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