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Database: The Beggar's Opera

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The Beggar's Opera opened in London in 1728. It's a musical - one of the earliest ever created. It was written by John Gay, a writer friend of both Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift, two of the prominent literary figures of the day.

The Opera was both popular and controversial. Popular, partly because it was an excellent skewering of Italian Opera, which was very popular at the time. However, instead of complicated Italian songs, the Beggar's Opera featured folk tunes that the audience could recognise, meaning you could hum along even if you didn't know Italian.

It was controversial because of the subject matter. It's set in the Newgate prison, and the main characters are criminals - who act much like the upper classes. It was a sendup of the British nobility, including veiled criticism of the head of government - neither of whom traditionally have a sense of humour. I've never met a Queen who liked a knock-knock joke.

Actually, I've never met a Queen.

The Beggar's Opera was accused of being a "base form of entertainment", and - because its main characters were criminals - accused of causing increase of crime. It's nice to see that criticism isn't just for movies and video games. Bloody opera - corrupting our kids...

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