College of Charleston SCHOOL OF THE ARTS

“The Beggar’s Opera” Is Not an Opera

The Department of Theatre will present Vaclav Havel’s satire The Beggar’s Opera, November 11 – 16.  The former Czech Republic President and political dissident Vaclav Havel borrowed some characters and plot elements from John Gay’s 1728 ballad opera to create his own tale of a culture where no one could be trusted.  It is a satire of a society filled with persons who have come to accept lying, treachery, and shifting alliances as norms of life.

Written in 1975, the story places Macheath, Peachum, and the rest of the original play’s characters in a farcical underworld, where power comes by way of deceit, and allies are lured into betrayals of each other by the most unconscionable liars in the society. Originally performed in 1976 for a single night, it was then declared samizdat – illegal underground literature.  The irony in Havel’s dialogue and the absurd impulses of his characters make for a lampoon well aimed at any culture where people scoff at the ideal of personal integrity.

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