Editorial Principles


FE=First Edition

SE=Second Edition

TE=Third Edition

If relevant, issues are indicated by number following the edition (e. g., FE1 for First Edition, first issue). 

Lewis=Peter Elfed Lewis, ed., The Beggar’s Opera.  New York: Harper & Row, 1973,

Fuller=John Fuller, ed.  The Beggar’s Opera in Vol. 2., The Dramatic Works of John Gay.  Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1983.

Because this edition aims to be accessible to readers new to The Beggar’s Opera and editorial conventions, it avoids the use of editorial abbreviations like tildes, choosing instead to explain each editorial decision more fully.

* indicates a textual note

^ indicates an editorial note




This site offers the only accessible edition of The Beggar’s Opera that integrates what scholars agree is the authoritative edition of the text (FE) and the music (TE), with some textual changes in SE and TE where a good case can be made for authorial intention.  Recent editions by Lewis (1973), Fuller (1983), and Gladfelder (2013), while excellent in their way, do not include the music, reasoning that it can be found elsewhere, as in Barlow’s standard edition of the music only (1990).  But this splits apart the essential twinning of text and music, word and song at the heart of the play. 

The only recent editions to include the music are faulty in other ways.  Lindley and Jones (2010) do not include the overture, despite using the third edition as the music copy-text, and they  follow the second edition’s integration of the music into the body of the text, even though there is good reason to believe that the approach to this matter in the third edition, which reverts to the first’s practice of putting the scored music at the end, had authorial sanction.  The other prior edition to print music and text, from Project Gutenberg (2008)–which is also the only other online version–reprints Lovat Fraser’s 1921 edition, which, though historically significant, is itself based on the non-standard 1765 edition.  Other editions that combine text and music are either long out of print (Roberts and Smith, 1969) and/or are problematic in other ways

Lewis’ introduction gives the most complete account of the three editions, including the various issues of FE and SE.

On the Text of the Play

  • This edition also acknowledges the move in the past few decades in textual scholarship to foreground the status of the text as a social document, the product of many hands and not subject entirely to the author’s intention. Where changes are made in SE and TE to correct what would otherwise be inconsistencies with the decisions made in FE (e.g., the capitalization of common nouns), they are adopted.  Conversely, inconsistencies in printing are retained if not corrected in SE or TE, except in cases where this would compromise the meaning of the text.  
  • As the text moved from the first to the third edition, the three most important changes are:
    1. The inclusion of Air LVI, first appearing in FE5.
    2. The numbering of the songs across acts rather than restarting in each act, starting in SE.
    3. The printing of the overture and the lyrics within the music at the end of TE.

These changes are all included in this edition.

  • Some global decisions that follow from the principles articulated above:
    • In the Dramatis Personae, names are in italics.
    • Speakers’ names are italicized.
    • Proper names are italicized.
    • “Asides” are positioned as Gay has them, aligned on the right, contra Lewis, who sets them where a modern reader would expect them, prior to the speech.
    • The text often repeats a speaker’s name even after they were the singer of the previous line; while this might seem unnecessary, it is preserved as is in these earlier editions.
  • Other specific editorial decisions are detailed in the textual notes.

On the Music

  • TE score does not line up words exactly under pitches, occasionally making the exact placement of syllables a matter of guesswork. Our placement of syllables agrees with Jeremy Barlow’s performance score and reflects common sense and the natural stresses of the sung English language.
  • In general our decisions align with those of Barlow. In Air LXVI m. 5, however, the grouping of eighth notes suggests that “my” should be sung on the 3rd rather than 2nd beat. This is notated with +.
  • Slurs are included in some cases where a single word or syllable is sung as a melisma. The original score is not consistent about how these slurs are used, but they are only ever included in such instances. Where slurs are used, they are not always indicated over the entire grouping of notes that should be slurred, but rather are placed approximately over that grouping. In these cases, the editors have assumed that, as elsewhere, the notes to be slurred as those included in a single word or syllable sung as a melisma.
  • In modern practice, accidentals are often marked where they are not necessary in order to remind the performer of a note that was previously altered but which now has returned to the original key signature. Such accidentals are not generally used in The Beggar’s Opera score, although their use is inconsistent and sometimes accidentals are marked multiple times within the same bar. We have kept our marking accidentals identical to how they are notated in the 3rd edition.
  • The original score often seems to indicate repeat signs on either side of the final barline. This presumably represents contemporary practice and does not indicate a repeat after the air has ended. These extra repeat signs have been omitted from this edition.
  • ^ The original score does not include 1st and 2nd endings in places where, in order to make sense musically, such an indication would be required. In such cases, we have added the 1st and 2nd endings in order to account for missing beats in the original score, but musically no alterations have been made. In Air XIX, a Da Capo repeat is indicated but does not specify where the “fine” occurs. We have supplied the “Fine” mark where common sense indicates it should occur. Such additions have been marked with an inverted caret
  • * A few obvious errors appear in the third edition of the score. We have marked these errors with an asterisk.
  • See Textual Notes for specific emendations.