The Beggar's Opera

Poverty Through a Satirical Lens: Comparing Jonathan Swift and John Gay College

Writer and satirist Jonathan Swift stated that “satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own” (Swift). Such beholders, as Swift mentions, use satiric narrative to convey social and political plights. In his satire A Modest Proposal, Swift uses rhetoric, overt exaggeration and insincerity in order to capture the audience’s attention regarding the state of poverty in Ireland. John Gay also uses satire in his piece, The Beggar’s Opera, to highlight the hypocrisy surrounding the treatment of lower class society, hoping to correct the social and political vices that governed London in the eighteenth century. Satire is used to challenge the constructs concerning social class and poverty.

A Modest Proposal is an attempt to "find out a fair, cheap, and easy method" of transforming the starving children of Ireland into "sound and useful members of the commonwealth” (Swift 3). Swift begins by deploring the miserable lives of the poverty-stricken Irish who struggle to provide for their families. The exordium illustrates a world in which streets are full of female beggars, followed by children dressed in rags:

“It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or...

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