The fourth Air in scene five of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, continues with the already established theme of weak women. The Air begins with declaring love as the “virgin’s hearts” (2617) downfall. To fall in love in this plays society is a despisable act as it can bring no benefit to anyone-only chagrin. A virgin heart in this context means one that has not been desensitized by the world in which they live, and that can still believe in the idea of love. Mrs. Peachum’s Air serves as a foreshadowing to Polly’s fate, that she is to remain attached to Captain Macheath and so have her “[honor] singed” (2617).
The Air seems to contradict itself in the context of the play, and scene, as the reader discovers that marriage is not commonly practiced. Mr. Peachum, the business man, explains the reasoning in staying single: “Married! If the wench does not know her own profit, sure she knows her own pleasure better than to make herself a property!” (2617). Not only is this state of union discouraged for reasons of money, but also for the misery it garuntees husband and wife. The Air promotes marriage though: “If soon she not made a wife’/ Her honor’s singed…” (2617). These lines clearly distinguish honor as valuable and this value as being retained through marriage.
In the context of eigtheenth century England, this is satirizing the emphasis on marriage. Gay is pointing out that women who marry are constraining themselves to a life of being held accountable for their husbands actions, “Can you support the expense of a husband, hussy, in gaming, drinking and whoring?” (2620). I would not say that Gay supports free love, but rather is directly accusing marriage as having few of the conveniences it is supposed to garuntee, such as marital bliss.