The plot of the Beggar's Opera

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At the start of the piece, the Beggar claims to have written an opera.  He explains to the actors that the piece has a strict moral which must be maintained at all costs.  The players are unconvinced, and the Beggar takes on a role in the drama, to ensure that his moral is not corrupted in the performance of the piece by the recalcitrant actors. 

The play opens with Peachum, the fence and thief-catcher, looking through his accounting books.  

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He and his wife, Mrs. Peachum, are horrified when Polly, their daughter, announces that she has secretly married the highwayman, Macheath.  Peachum and his wife see no advantage in marriage, and certainly none in a marriage to a highwayman.  But Peachum realises that if Macheath is hanged, the Peachums could collect the reward for his execution.  The couple plot the arrest of Macheath.  

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Polly is distraught at the thought of Macheath's death, and warns him at once of her parents' plan.  Macheath retreats to a tavern to meet with his gang.  

As he can no longer be seen with them, he stays at the tavern to be entertained by the ladies of the night.  His weakness for women proves his undoing when two of them disarm him, and betray him to Peachum.

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Macheath is taken to Newgate prison, where the chief warder, Lockit, arranges for a lighter set of chains to bind him, subject to a substantial bribe.  Lockit's daughter, Lucy, is madly in love with Macheath, who has previously offered marriage to her, in exchange for her favours.  Macheath swears his affection to the pregnant Lucy, but Polly arrives and reveals Macheath as her husband.  Macheath tries to deny Polly's claim by insisting that Polly is mad.  Despite her doubts, Lucy manages to contrive Macheath's escape.  

Lockit learns of the promised marriage to his daughter, and realizes that he, too, may be entitled to the reward money, upon Macheath's execution.  Lockit meets Peachum to discuss the matter.  Mrs. Trapes, the keeper of the brothel, conveniently interrupts their meeting and reveals Macheath's hiding place.  Peachum and Lockit join forces together to recapture Macheath.

Meanwhile, Polly seeks out Lucy in hopes of saving Macheath's life.  Lucy has planned to poison Polly, but Polly avoids the trap.  The two find out that Macheath has been captured, and plead with their fathers to save him.  But business is business, and Macheath is taken to the gallows.  

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To complete his wretchedness, four more wives arrive, each with a child apiece.  Macheath is now more than glad to be hanged, and the Beggar appears in the guise of the hangman to ensure that his tale of morality ends correctly with Macheath's death.  

However, the actors are unhappy that hanging Macheath will displease the audience who want to see a happy ending, and point out to the Beggar that his royalties for the play depend on having audiences to see it.  The Beggar reluctantly accepts the commercial reality of the situation, and Macheath is released to take Polly as his true wife.

© Katisha Ltd 2013