This paper aims to investigate John Gay’s experimental way of Homi K. Bhabha’s mimicry addressing multiple identities in Polly (1729). Whereas the highwayman Captain Macheath enjoys London’s low life in The Beggar’s Opera (1728), in its sequel Polly, now Macheath’s spouse, Polly Peachum emerges as the true heroine claiming her love and virtue in the West Indies. Gay represents identities enmeshed with piracy, slavery and colonization while considering the possibilities for remaking identities in a colonial setting.
Conspicuously by ways of disguise —costume, mask, and role-reversal— almost every character in the play raises issues of gender, nation, and racial transgressions that is, in Gayatri Spivak’s notion, overdetermined within the New World.
In Polly, Gay’s staged characters seem to deny their given identities upon gender, nation, race, and empire while strategically crossing and shifting the boundaries from one to another stereotypical images and roles; Polly, a virtuous white woman, wears trousers to turn into a courageous young pirate man; Macheath, a white indentured servant, paints in a black face to be the black leader of the pirate crew under the name of Morano; native Indians embrace the ideals of virtue, honor, and decorum to play the noble and civil colonized more resemblant to Europeans. Thus, from such masquerades, the play expresses that without entirely depending on gender, race, nationality to place the character, the identities can be mobile and instable always in the process of being made from difference and sameness; and the incongruity of identity resulting from the staged and the true nature inherent in the characters. However, by the offstage death of Macheath and the expected marriage of Polly and Indian Prince at the end of the play, Polly reveals that even though Gay uses mimicries to provide a new opportunity to rethink the construction of identities, he is not able to advance further a new fundamental transformation of identity.