A Downfall Of Human Nature Essay, Research Paper
17 February 1997
A Downfall of Human Nature
In John Gay s, Beggar s Opera, love and marriage dominate the theme of the play, but they are not as highly thought of as they are in today s society. Polly gets married for all the right reasons, but according to her parents she gets married for all the wrong reasons. Polly being married to her parents means a loss of income, but it did mean that Polly could kill her husband and get the money that he did have, which Polly s parents were strongly in favor of. Polly s husband, Maceath, does not share the same beliefs in marriage as Polly does which makes their marriage even worse. Maceath already has gotten Lucy pregnant and promised to marry her before he marries Polly. Throughout the play you see how human nature at the time of the play is over all very selfish.
When Peachum and his wife found out that their daughter, Polly, may be married they were extremely angry. Polly s parents themselves were not even married in the real meaning of marriage, but joined only by a common law marriage. Peachum and his wife had taught their daughter that marriage was a bad thing and that marrying was only good for one thing, money, not love. Polly says, “I did not marry him coolly and deliberately for honour or money. But, I love him” (57). This is exactly what Polly had been taught against and it made her parents even angrier. Today people would be outraged and hearing Polly s mother and fathers beliefs on marriage. Marriage is supposed to be something sacred, something that is done because of love not money. Peachum and his wife were also angry because Polly s income would no longer belong to them.
During the time period of the 1720 s when the play takes place a daughter s income belongs to her family, but when she is married it goes to her husband. Polly, who s job was basically just to flirt and toy with men for money could no longer do this once she was married. Her father Peachum says,
You know, Polly, I am not against your toying and trifling with a customer in the way of business, or to get out a secret, or so. But if I find out that you have played the fool and are married, you jade you, I ll cut your throat, hussy. Now you know my mind. (54)
Here Peachum is saying that he does not mind if Polly flirts with the customers to get money out of them, but marriage is a definitely the wrong thing. Peachum does not mind the flirting because the Peachum and his wife will be getting the money. The fact that Peachum does not care that his daughter flirts with and toys with men for money, but does care that she is getting married is wrong. Peachum and his wife want Polly s husband Maceath killed so Polly can have his money.
Polly does not like the idea of killing her husband and Peachum and his wife are even angered more by this. Peachum says to Polly,
Parting with him! Why, that is the whole scheme and intention of all marriage articles. The comfortable estate of widowhood, is the only hope that keeps up a wife s spirits. Where is the woman who could scruple to be a wife if she had it in her power to be a widow whenever she pleased? (61)
Polly does not see how she could possibly murder someone she is in love with. Polly who was taught that marriage was for only money does not want just her husbands money. This is another place where if this were to happen in today s time period would be shocked. If a wife was to kill her husband just to get at his money people would be in utter disbelief. It was not like Maceath, Polly s husband, was rich, but he was actually very poor. If someone was to kill of their husband who was rich people would not think it was right, but they would not be as shocked as if they would be if the man had had very little money and that was why the wife was killing him. Lockit, who is Lucy s father carries the same belief on being a widow that Peachum does.
Lockit thinks that his daughter, Lucy, should be happy that her husband is going to die because she is going to be a widow. You get a clear picture of this when Lockit says,
Learn to bear your husband s death like a reasonable woman. Tis not the fashion, nowadays, so much as to affect sorrow upon these occasions. No woman would ever marry, if she had not the chance of morality for a release. Act like a woman of spirit, hussy, and thank your father for what he is doing. (87)
Lockit actually wants his daughter to be thankful for killing her husband. No good father is actually going to ask their daughter to be thankful for having her husband killed. It is insane how Lockit and Peachum think that their daughters should be thankful for being widows. The worst part of it is that Lucy and Polly love Maceath, but he does not love them or marry them because he loves them.
Maceath, who is married to Polly has already gotten Lucy pregnant and promised to marry her before he has actually married Polly. Maceath does not really love Polly or Lucy. Maceath says,
What a fool is a fond wench! Polly is most confoundedly bit. I love the sex. And a man who loves money, might as well be contented with one guinea, as I with one woman. The town perhaps hath been as much as obliged to me, for recruiting it with free-hearted ladies, as to any recruiting officer in the army. If it were not for us and the other gentlemen of the sword, Drury Lane would be uninhabited. (72)
Here Maceath is saying that if were for him and other gentlemen like him who just used women for sex then there would not be any prostitutes and Drury Lane, which is a whore house would not be in business. Maceath thinks that people should be thankful for people like himself, but why should we? Maceath is a dog and is the exact opposite of what a man should be like. Maceath does not love Lucy or Polly, he loves sex. Maceath only uses Polly and Lucy for sex. You can also get a pretty good idea about Maceath s morals by looking at how much time he spends with prostitutes. No man who spends as much time with prostitutes as Maceath is going to marry someone because he loves them. Maceath s views on women also show how human nature in the play is very selfish.
Maceath s general view that women are just there for sex shows how selfish his human nature is. He cares nothing about women, just what they can do for him. Maceath having two wives shows how selfish of a person Maceath is. Maceath is not alone in his selfishness though, he is just like everyone else in the play. Peachum and his wife are also very selfish when it comes to their human nature. Peachum and his wife do not want their daughter to get married because it would mean a loss of income for them. They do not care that their daughter is in love with Maceath at all. All that they care about is the loss of income. This is a very selfish act by Peachum and his wife, but it is not the only one. Peachum and his wife also want Maceath killed so their daughter can have his money and they want to protect themselves. Peachum and his wife are mixed up in a crime ring that Maceath is involved in and his marriage to Peachum s daughter, Polly, would enable him to turn Peachum in to the law and then he would gain all of Peachum and his wife s fortunes. The characters in the Beggar s Opera have very selfish human natures and in turn are very different from what we feel people should be like.