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© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

John Gay: Selected full-text books and articles

John Gay, Social Critic By Sven M. Armens King's Crown Press, Columbia University, 1954
John Gay's London Illustrated from the Poetry of the Time By William Henry Irving Harvard University Press, 1928
John Gay's the Fan and the "Paper War" of 1713 By Daly, Patrick J. JR CLIO, Vol. 29, No. 3, Spring 2000
The Burlesque Tradition in the English Theatre after 1660 By 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 By Don L. F. Nilsen Greenwood Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "John Gay (1685-1732)" begins on p. 39
English Literature from Dryden to Burns By Alan Dugald McKillop Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1948
Librarian’s tip: "John Gay (1685-1732)" begins on p. 190
A Survey-History of English Literature By William Bradley Otis; Morriss H. Needleman Barnes & Noble, 1938
Librarian’s tip: "John Gay" begins on p. 358
Studies in the Comic By 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 By 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 By Frank N. Magill; Dayton Kohler Harper & Row, 1958
Librarian’s tip: "John Gay" begins on p. 409
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