Polly (opera)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Polly is a ballad opera with text by John Gay and music by Johann Christoph Pepusch. It is a sequel to Gay's The Beggar's Opera. Due to censorship, the opera was not performed in Gay's lifetime. It had its world premiere on 19 June 1777 at the Haymarket Theatre in London. A revised and edited version of the score by Clifford Bax and Frederic Austin premiered on 30 December 1922 at the Kingsway Theatre in London.[1]


The opera relates the adventures of Polly Peachum in the West Indies. Macheath is transported to the West Indies, and becomes a pirate, disguised as a black man and under the pseudonym of 'Morano'. He is in the company of Jenny Diver, the prostitute from the first play who had betrayed him—so Macheath is living bigamously. Polly goes to the West Indies looking for Macheath. Mrs Trapes (also from 'The Beggar's Opera') has set up in white-slaving and shanghais Polly to sell her to the wealthy planter Mr Ducat. Polly is taken into service in the Ducat household. On hearing Polly's story, Mrs Ducat advises her to disguise herself as a young man, to ward off unwelcome male attention. After skirmishes between the Indians (in alliance with the colonials) and the pirates, the pirates are routed and identities are revealed. The play ends with Macheath being executed on the orders of the Indian King Pohetohee, and Polly marrying his son Cawwawkee, after her period of mourning.[2]

Like its predecessor, Polly was censored during its time. The production was forbidden by the Lord Chamberlain (the Duke of Grafton), probably through Walpole's influence.[3] However, the censorship did not affect Gay much — on the contrary it proved as excellent advertisement. The play was published by subscription in 1729, and Gay earned several thousand pounds.

In fact, the Duchess of Queensberry was dismissed from court for enlisting subscribers in the palace. The Duke of Queensberry gave Gay a home, and Gay received affectionate patronage until his death on 4 December 1732.

The play was not produced on stage during Gay's lifetime, as Walpole found the satire in Polly much more blatant and strong than the first play. It was banned from rehearsal by the Lord Chamberlain for being a filthy and libellous work. However, since Polly followed close on the heels of its predecessor, it was probably not so much the subject matter, rather the fact that it was a play by Gay that caused it to be banned. Its stage premiere took place on 19 June 1777 at the Haymarket Theatre, London.[1]

However, the ban was effective only in name, as the play was not only printed and sold in April 1729, but in June of the same year, Gay and his publisher had injunctions brought against 17 printers and booksellers for piracy of the work.[4]


  1. ^ a b Gay, John: Polly at Boosey & Hawkes
  2. ^ The Contemplator's Short History of John Gay and The Beggar's Opera
  3. ^ Winton, Calhoun (1993). John Gay and the London theatre. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 132–133. ISBN 0-8131-1832-8.
  4. ^ Dryden, Robert. G. “John Gay's Polly: Unmasking Pirates and Fortune Hunters in the West Indies”. Eighteenth-Century Studies. Vol. 34, No. 4. (Summer 2001), pp. 539-557