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The Beggar's Opera - john Gay

In the early 18th century drama was represented by sentimental comedies, and very few of these plays have arrived. A brilliant exception to this trend came with The Beggar’s Opera (1728), John Gay’s satirical ballad opera which is a precursor of modern musical comedy. In it thieves, beggars, and prostitutes mimic and ridicule the manners of high society lords and ladies, thus giving a satirical attack on social inequalities. This work was revived by the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht in his The Threepenny Opera (1928).
The Licensing Act of 1737 restricted dramatists’ freedom of expression and limited play production to two theatres only, thus driving several writers out of the theatre. Henry Fielding is the most famous example: he was a dramatist, but from the date on he devoted himself to the novel.

The satirical vein emerging from The Beggar’s Opera inspired the two outstanding dramatists of the 18th century, Oliver Goldsmith (1728 – 1774) and Richard B. Sheridan (1751 – 1816), both Irish authors of anti-sentimental humorous comedies. In particular, Sheridan’s witty, elegant and satirical plays make him a genius in the art of comedy. His extraordinary instinct for comic situations, and his brilliant and amusing dialogues make him unique in the history of the theatre.

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