Author Biography

Kristen Hanley Cardozo is a PhD candidate in English literature at the University of California, Davis. She is currently working on a dissertation on the figure of the brute in nineteenth-century British literature.


John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera has influenced popular culture since its debut. Its 1729 sequel, Polly, has been understudied by literary critics, perhaps because of its suppression in Gay’s lifetime. However, Polly offers scholars new views on British imperialism before an active abolition movement in Britain. Gay confronts the evils of colonialism through his theatrical use of disguise. While other Caribbean plays of the period allow white characters to reinvent themselves abroad, in Polly disguise only intensifies the self, while the higher stakes of plantation space are where the characters meet the fates originally designated for them in The Beggar’s Opera. Although the play contains a slave rebellion and many white characters referred to as slaves, the absence of actual Black characters suggests an inability to deal directly with the effects of chattel slavery on Britain and its victims as well as the impossibility of Black guilt in a system that otherwise indicts all participants.


Polly, John Gay, race, slavery, gender, disguise, pirates, eighteenth century, blackface