Mr. and Mrs. Peachum are horrified when they learn of their daughter Polly's secret marriage to the rebellious and notorious highwayman, Macheath. However, their fear is soon mitigated when they decide to kill him for his money. When Macheath is in the tavern, surrounded by women of 'ill repute', he discovers that he has been rumbled: two of these women are in cahoots with the Peachums and plan to kill him. He finds himself in Newgate and, worse than that, in the company of the jailer's daughter, Lucy, to whom he is also betrothed. Although Macheath is captured and destined to be hanged, Gay's action-packed and entertaining play subverts audience expectations by letting Macheath off the hook and not punishing its villains. John Gay's satirical opera, written in 1728, was revolutionary because it took poverty and corruption as its subject, and paupers and villains as its characters. The lyrics were set to famous songs of the day making it hugely popular with audiences and a radical departure from traditional opera.
David Lindley is Professor of Renaissance Literature at Leeds University. He is the author of Shakespeare and Music in the Arden Critical Companions Series and editor of The Tempest for the New Cambridge Shakespeare series. Vivien Jones is Professor of Eighteenth-Century Gender and Culture at Leeds University. She has edited Evelina and Jane Austen: Selected Letters for Oxford World's Classics and has written widely on women in the eighteenth century.