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Matthew, one of Macheath’s cohorts, enters a stable in
Soho. He searches the space with a revolver, and Macheath follows
after him. Once Matthew has confirmed that the stable is empty,
Polly enters, wearing a wedding dress. Polly is disappointed that
they are going to celebrate their marriage in a stable and even
more upset to learn they are going to start their new life together
with a crime. She appears not to know Macheath very well. Macheath
promises that the furnishings will arrive soon.
The other criminals, Jacob, Robert, Walter, and Ed, enter,
delivering carpets, furniture, food, and table settings. They excitedly
tell Macheath about all the people that were killed or injured in
the acquisition of these goods. However, Macheath is disappointed
and tells them that they will never be businessmen. Polly is distraught that
people have been hurt just to provide for her wedding. Macheath
becomes angry not at the fact that people have been hurt but that
the stolen goods do not match. He assumes that is why Polly is upset
too and assures her not to worry because the priest will be there
The men set up the stable with their takings and reveal
their incompetence in stealing furnishings. The furnishings consist
of only two chairs, fourteen forks, two knives, and the legs of
a harpsichord, which were sawn off to make a bench. Matthew offers
his heartfelt congratulations to Macheath and then makes a crude
joke to Polly, which causes Macheath to knock him to the ground. Macheath
tells him to save his dirty talk for the whore Kitty. Matthew says
he would never use filthy language with Kitty, and besides, he has
heard about the kind of things that Macheath says to Lucy. This
remark is the first reference to Macheath being involved with another
woman. Macheath shoots a severe look at Matthew, and the other men
separate the two from each other.
The thieves offer their presents to the couple. Macheath
is disappointed with each gift, while Polly thinks they are nice.
They all sit down to eat, but before they can dig in, Macheath asks
his men to sing something “delightful.” Matthew almost chokes with
laughter at Macheath’s attempt at high-class language. Then Ed lets
another reference to Lucy slip, and this time Polly notices and
asks Macheath who she is. Jacob tells Polly not to worry about Lucy,
and Matthew gestures to Jacob to not say anything. Polly tries to
get more information out of Jacob, but he denies her. Macheath ignores Polly’s
Reverend Kimball arrives, and Macheath calls for a song
again. Three of the thieves stand and sing about a couple that marries
without really knowing each other at all. Macheath is disgusted
and inappropriately calls the song “penurious.” Matthew laughs at
this fancy language again, but Polly defuses the situation by offering
to sing her own song. She sings “Pirate Jenny,” about a girl who
works at a dive bar and is always being teased by the customers
about “when her ship will come in.” In the song, the girl patiently
does her work and smiles at her dreary circumstances, knowing that
one day her pirate husband will pull into the harbor and kill anyone
she points at before whisking her away.
The song gets a warm reception all around, but then the
police arrive. The men are frightened, yet Macheath greets the sheriff, Tiger
Brown, as an old friend. They sing “The Song of the Heavy Cannon”
about their service in the army in India together. Then Macheath
raves about how close he and Brown are. Macheath explains that every
time Macheath steals something, he gives Brown a slice. Every time
Brown makes a raid, he tips off Macheath in advance. As he speaks,
Macheath notices Brown sadly staring at the carpet. Brown notices
the rug is from the Oriental Carpet Company, and Macheath, like
a savvy shopper, smoothes over the situation by acting like a frequent
customer of the store. Brown mentions how concerned he is about
the queen’s coronation. Macheath tells Brown that he is sure Peachum
has it in for him and checks with Brown that his record at Scotland
Yard is clean. Brown assures him that his record is clear and then
exits. Macheath’s men reveal their special present, a big bed for
the new couple. The men exit, leaving Macheath and Polly alone.
They speak a short stretch of verse about how the circumstances
of their love do not matter.
A few of the play’s conflicts begin to unfold in these
scenes. Polly does not really know the man she is marrying. The
man she fell in love was proper and well-off in society, implying
his position in public by taking Polly and her mother to the Octopus
Hotel and wearing white kid gloves. The fact that Polly is appalled
by the crimes around her shows that Macheath has lied to her about
his true character. Macheath’s dishonesty with Polly shows that
he is as untrustworthy in matters of love as he is in matters of
business. However, Polly’s willingness to accept his criminality
because she loves him shows just how strongly she feels about him.
Another conflict is Macheath’s knowledge that Peachum may be after
him. He anticipates the consequences of marrying Polly because he
thinks Peachum will not approve of her marriage to a criminal. Also,
the friendship between Macheath and Brown implies a conflict, and
a complicity, between the law and crime.
This scene presents Macheath as a full-fledged character. Macheath
has only been portrayed through song and through the Peachums’ terror
at his name. Here in the stable, he embodies a lower-class crook
with upwardly mobile aspirations. When his thieves bring him wedding
presents to furnish the stable, Macheath’s anger is directed at
the lack of style the men have shown in choosing the goods. Because
Macheath often portrays himself as an upper-class citizen, he desires
a classy wedding, just like the kind he imagines the upper classes
have. In ranting at his men, though, Macheath also demonstrates
that he does not actually know anything about being upper class.
When he asks them to sing a “delightful” song, the chuckle from
Matthew indicates that he and other thieves are not used to Macheath
using such fancy words. Later, Macheath’s incorrect usage of the
word penurious shows how hard he is trying to be
a classier guy. Likewise, Macheath demands better table manners
from the thieves he employs. Macheath’s appreciation of furniture
and rugs purposefully mimics the way that consumer classes talk
about objects. He also only “shops” at the finest carpet stores,
and he appreciates, or tries to appreciate, the differences between
certain types of furniture. Like most consumers, he does not care
where his goods come from; he only cares about the quality. Macheath’s
concern for better table manners and fine things demonstrates that
crooks and those who do not commit crime are not always so different
from one another.
Polly’s interaction with Macheath’s criminals ultimately
displays the criminals as the good guys in The Threepenny
Opera. At first Polly is shocked and upset by the stealing
and murders that the crooks committed in order to celebrate her
wedding. She represents a poor girl who does not realize what she
has gotten herself into. However, a bond of sympathy is created
between Polly and the criminals when she sees what they went through
to make sure she had a nice wedding breakfast. She continues to
warm up to them when they give her wedding gifts. As she becomes
accustomed to the situation and as the humor mounts, she sees that
the thieves are decent people after all. She eventually even takes
responsibility for the party being a success by singing the boisterous
and funny “Pirate Jenny.” The song, with its tale of vengeance at
the hands of a sweetly demure girl, shows that Polly has a tougher
side as well, which will emerge more fully as the play progresses.
In this scene, Polly’s function is to be complicit in enjoying a
life of crime.
The ending of the scene is an important example of the
alienation effect. Here, the expectation is that Macheath and Polly
will have a tender moment alone together. The first part of the
verse they sing is a sweet description of their inability to ignore
the circumstances of their love. But the last two lines state that
the consequences of their love do not matter, a sentiment that pulls
them out of their situation and calls into question whether their
love is real. These are not lines that the characters would logically
speak at that moment because they contradict the vows of love that
they have sworn to each other. These lines instead function as a
commentary on the action. As such, the verses of the song force
the question of whether the love between Macheath and Polly is real.
This question of the mutual love between Macheath and Polly creates
alienation in the audience. The actual lines of the song challenge
the audience’s expectation of how Macheath and Polly feel toward
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Threepenny Opera!