The Beggar's Opera, often referred to today as the first musical comedy, was the most popular dramatic piece of the eighteenth century—and is the work that John Gay (1685-1732) is best remembered for having written. That association of popular music and satiric lyrics has proved to be continuingly attractive, and variations on the Opera have flourished in this century: by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, by Duke Ellington, and most recently by Vaclav Havel. The original opera itself is played all over the world in amateur and professional productions.
But John Gay's place in all this has not been well defined. His Opera is often regarded as some sort of chance event. In John Gay and the London Theatre, the first book-length study of John Gay as dramatic author, Calhoun Winton recognized the Opera as part of an entirely self-conscious career in the theatre, a career that Gay pursued from his earliest days as a writer in London and continued to follow to his death. Winton emphasizes Gay's knowledge of and affection for music, acquired, he argues, by way of his association with Handel.
Although concentrating on Gay and his theatrical career, Winton also limns a vivid portrait of London itself and of the London stage of Gay's time, a period of considerable turbulence both within and outside the theatre. Gay's plays reflect in varying ways and degrees that social, political, and cultural turmoil. Winton's study sheds new light not only on Gay and the theatre, but also on the politics and culture of his era.
A concise, useful, and lucid book that delivers what it promises.~Modern Language Review
Winton is a meticulous scholar. His book will be of real value as an introduction for those unfamiliar with Gay's drama and the London stage of the period.~Reviews in English Studies