Gay was more or less dependent on patronage his whole life and lived in various semi-employed states with a number of aristocrats. Many works, such as the Fables (1727, 1738), were written to win the favor of specific members of court. Though relying on the generosity of patrons such as the Duchess of Queensberry, Gay also earned money from his plays, especially The Beggar’s Opera (1728), which enjoyed unprecedented success. Running for 62 performances, the opera inspired numerous imitations and parodies and provided the basis for Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s 20th-century Threepenny Opera (1928). Allegedly satirizing then-prime minister Sir Robert Walpole, Gay’s play gained notoriety and made staging its sequel, Polly, impossible until 1777. The Beggar’s Opera was in some ways the culmination of Gay’s career. In 1730, he moved to the Queensberry estate in Burlington Gardens, where he spent the last years of his life in partial isolation. He restaged an early effort, The Wife of Bath (1713, revised 1730), and continued writing plays, though he didn’t attempt to get them produced. After his sudden death from fever, he was buried in Westminster Abbey. Pope was a pallbearer and contributed an epitaph to Gay’s memorial. Above it are Gay’s own words: “Life is a jest; and all things show it / I thought so once; but now I know it.”
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