The Beggar's Opera

Uxorial Use-Value and Marxist Marriages: Evaluation of Women and Desire in The Beggar's Opera

Though set in the underworld of thievery, John Gay's The Beggar's Opera codifies a set of Marxist sexual politics in which marriage stands as the great equalizer of desire and power. An often aphoristic overview of the traditional power struggle between men and women frames a world in which marriage reduces the wooer's desire but raises his power by an equal degree through ownership as a husband. This commodity fetishism of the wife spurs, in turn, the external desire of potential suitors, restoring equilibrium to the scales of eros. I will argue that Macheath's eventual capture (disregarding his brief escape and ironically crowd-pleasing twist-ending) stems from the complications his insatiable desire, at the expense of an all-consuming greed, introduces to a capitalistic society based on indirectly equitable gender relations.

Though the opera contains stereotypical evaluations of sought-after virgins, Gay moves beyond this pat system by exploring the source of their appeal in monetary terms. Air V, sung by Mrs. Peachum, equates the virgin with raw, yet to be coined material: "A maid is like the golden ore, / Which hath guineas intrinsical in't, / Whose worth is never known before / It is tried and...

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