Top positive review
Doing justice to a great satirist - 200 years after his first audiences
on 14 November 2016
It's not often that you praise a comedy and the first thing that you comment on are the footnotes! But they are not just of scholarly interest, they are essential to full enjoyment of these plays.
The violent, immoral Macheath, the (relatively) innocent Polly, her cynical parents, the light-fingered lads, the ladies of the night, the corrupt officials... all the characters are familiar from the Brecht and Weil update, translated into English as "The Threepenny Opera", which itself has been restaged and updated many times. And the interplay is as amusing. Georgian London was every much as corrupt and depraved a city as any of the settings used in the multiple updates.
But just to readit as it seems is to miss half the jokes: Gay's drama of the lower classes was an opportunity for him to satirize the politicians and big-wigs of his day. The extensive notes identify who is targeted by which ressemblance, and what had they done to earn it, thus enabling the reader to enjoy the fun, without prior knowledge of the politics of the period.
The other thing point is that "The Beggar's Opera" is just that - it is interspersed by songs that comment on the proceedings of the play, set to popular tunes of the day. And, just as in a modern comedy skit, part of the joke involves identifying the original, and viewing the parady in the light of the original. This is where this edition really stands out. An extensive additional section has identified the original songs behind most of the plays, and printed a copy of those lyrics also, for the reader to compare.
It is also unusual to see the sequel "Polly" also included. Although both plays superficially have the conventional "happy ending", comparison of the two shows that Gay does not believe in anything so trite - he is as cynical about love as any of his characters.
Add a good introduction, setting the works in the context of Gay's life, and this really is an edition that enables a comic writer of 200 years ago to still entertain and provoke an audience today.