Picture it: It’s opera night. You’re a nice upper class personage prepared for a fancy schmancy evening of the most en vogue theatrical masterpiece. If you’re a woman, you’ve got your fiercest frills and tightest corset on. If you’re a man, you’ve got on your new skinny breeches. (If you’re a non-binary individual, I’m sorry, you just don’t exist for another few centuries).
Anyways, you’re seated and ready for the visual artwork that’s about to unfold. And you get: The Beggar’s Opera?
That’s right, my friend, you get this delectable dish of sandwiched echelons and snide social commentaries. Prepare your best uncomfortable laugh.
If there’s one standout feature of this clever operatic parody (there are actually like hundreds), it’s the memorable stream of satirical names that Gay graces us with.
Peachum (noun): Leader of a crime syndicate; contrary to possible popular belief, does NOT indicate affinity for peaches, but rather the tendency to impeach lackey criminals in exchange for sweet sweet pounds
Peach (verb): Play on the action “to impeach”; in modern terms, to rat out a criminal even if you yourself are a criminal in order to obtain dat young money; rampant in 18th century London
Lockit (noun): Turnkey of Newgate Prison (hence, LOCK) also a crime syndicate leader in cahoots with Peachum; name originally made me think “pop it, lock it, polka dot it” (I’m shameless)
Macheath (noun): Evokes soooo many images i.e., Heath Bar, Heath Ledger R.I.P., Macbeth, MacheathBookPro, etc.; based on heroic highwayman Jack Sheppard; name itself is rather heroic, no? Not one of a devious criminal at all; perhaps a sort of celebration of his honest criminality (we’re all about oxymorons here); contrast with Peach and Lockit, both of which are humorous yet mocking monikers of troublesome hooligans
Robin of Bagshot (noun): A member of Macheath’s criminal crew; a minor character, yet notable for the name “Robin”; evokes image of Robin Hood, renowned noble thief known for stealing from the rich to give to the poor; as a highwayman, stealing from the rich is exactly what Robin and gang do (granted, they don’t exactly give to the poor, they play for keepsies, but still); Bagshot itself is a village in Surrey situated on today’s A30, which provides a path from London to Southampton (the perfect road for coaches to traverse and, therefore, highwaymen to thrive)
*not a character, but St. Giles (noun): the location of our opera; known in this era for being the dingy criminal sector of London, the locale collapses the pure image of its saintly namesake with the socially unacceptable figures of felons and the deplorable; this contradictory element contributes to the satire of the piece
There are many more examples of double-meaning names throughout the rich list of Dramatis Personae, but I’ll leave it here.
Needless to say, I’m sure John had a GAY ol’ time penning these colorful identities.
And you thought there wouldn’t be a pun included.