The Beggar’s Opera is a ballad opera in three acts written in 1728 by John Gay (1685–1732) with music arranged by Johann Christoph Pepusch (1667–1752). The once-popular genre of the ballad opera, of which The Beggar’s Opera is the only one to be widely known today, was satirical in tone and incorporated elements of contemporary popular songs. As well as remaining popular in its own right, it formed the basis for Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera, 1928), which features the original characters with new lyrics and music.
William Hogarth’s painting shows Macheath, a highwayman and the opera's protagonist, condemned to death. His lovers, Lucy Lockit (the jailer’s daughter, left) and Polly Peachum (the lawyer’s daughter, right), beg for mercy.