John Gay

John Gay, 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 Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

John Gay, Social Critic
Sven M. Armens.
King's Crown Press, Columbia University, 1954
The Poetical Works of John Gay: Including Polly, the Beggar's Opera, and Selections from the Other Dramatic Work
G. C. Faber; John Gay.
Oxford University Press, 1926
Slavery and Augustan Literature: Swift, Pope, Gay
John Richardson.
Routledge, 2003
John Gay's London Illustrated from the Poetry of the Time
William Henry Irving.
Harvard University Press, 1928
John Gay's the Fan and the "Paper War" of 1713
Daly, Patrick J. JR.
CLIO, Vol. 29, No. 3, Spring 2000
The Burlesque Tradition in the English Theatre after 1660
V. C. Clinton-Baddeley.
Methuen, 1952
Librarian’s tip: "John Gay" begins on p. 43
Humor in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century British Literature: A Reference Guide
Don L. F. Nilsen.
Greenwood Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "John Gay (1685-1732)" begins on p. 39
English Literature from Dryden to Burns
Alan Dugald McKillop.
Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1948
Librarian’s tip: "John Gay (1685-1732)" begins on p. 190
A Survey-History of English Literature
William Bradley Otis; Morriss H. Needleman.
Barnes & Noble, 1938
Librarian’s tip: "John Gay" begins on p. 358
Studies in the Comic
J. R. Caldwell; W. H. Durham; B. H. Lehman; Gordon McKenzie; J. F. Ross.
University of California Press, 1941
Librarian’s tip: "The Beggar's Opera" begins on p. 197
Specimens of English Dramatic Criticism, XVII-XX Centuries
A. C. Ward.
H. Milford; Oxford University Press, 1945
Librarian’s tip: "'The Beggar's Opera': 18th Century" begins on p. 69
Cyclopedia of World Authors
Frank N. Magill; Dayton Kohler.
Harper & Row, 1958
Librarian’s tip: "John Gay" begins on p. 409
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