The Beggar’s Opera

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Based on the setting depicted here, there is clearly a sense of chaos at Newgate prison. Perhaps this depiction seeks to criticize the prison and disciplinary system of 19th century London in general. From this book, the history of Newgate reaches back to medieval times but it wasn’t until the “seventeenth and eighteenth centuries [that] Newgate served as a embarkation point for those who were to be hanged (or worse) at Tyburn” (Halliday). In fact, it seems Newgate is Roman in its origins. If that be the case, then how does that interact with London’s legal system? Perhaps this iconic prison serves as a representation of London’s bastardized attempts at civilizing its population. The Romans are seen as the model of civility and when juxtaposed with Newgate’s corrupt system of imprisonment, I can’t help but ponder if Gay is criticizing London’s high vision of itself. Whether Gay knew Newgate’s Roman history or not, my modern reading of this prison “for gentlemen” as Macheath calls it seems all too ironically a place for those who don’t fit into society.

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