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John Gay

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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: English Literature, 1500 to 1799: Biographies


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