John Gay

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Gay, John,

1685–1732, English playwright and poet, b. Barnstaple, Devon. Educated at the local grammar school, he was apprenticed to a silk mercer for a brief time before commencing his literary career in London. The first of his writings to have any real merit were the mock pastoral, The Shepherd's Week (1714), and Trivia (1716), an amusing description of London life. He is remembered chiefly today for his ballad opera, The Beggar's Opera (1728), a lighthearted story of highwaymen and thieves, which satirizes both the corruption of contemporary genteel society and the then current fashion for Italian opera. Its sequel, Polly, written the following year, was suppressed by Sir Robert Walpole since it (like The Beggar's Opera) ridiculed his government. Gay was also the author of two books of verse called Fables (1727, 1738), which were very popular in his generation.


See his poetical works edited by G. C. Faber (1926, repr. 1969); study by P. A. Spacks (1965).

Gay, John


Born Sept. 1685, in Barnstaple; died Apr. 12, 1732, in London. English poet and playwright.

Gay’s Fables (two volumes, 1727-38) were successful. He also wrote the plays What D’Ye Call It (1715) and Three Hours After Marriage (1717, in collaboration with A. Pope and J. Arbuthnot) and the tragedy The Captives (1724). Gay’s fame is based on his comedy The Beggar’s Opera (1728) and its sequel Polly (1729). With these plays Gay created the genre of the so-called ballad opera, in which he combined parody with political and social satire. In the 20th century B. Brecht drew upon Gay’s work in The Threepenny Opera (1928).


The Poetical Works. London, 1926.


Istoriia angliiskoi literatury, vol. 1, issue 2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1945.
Istoriia zapadno-evropeiskogo teatra, vol. 2. Moscow, 1957.
Armens, Sven M. John Gay, Social Critic. New York, 1954.
Spacks, P. M. John Gay. New York, 1965.


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