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Peachum and Mrs. Peachum are in their shop. Polly stands
in the doorway carrying a traveling bag. She sings a song explaining
her decision to marry Macheath. In the song, she describes how she grew
up learning to protect herself from love. Even when the fellow was
nice, had money and clean shirts, and treated her with respect, she
learned to tell him no. But then she sings about how she met a fellow
who was not nice, did not have money, wore dirty shirts, and showed
no respect, but she could not tell him no. She refers to how the
moon shined so brightly to her one evening that she decided to give
love a chance.
Peachum and Mrs. Peachum are furious with her. They rail against
her for leaving them. Peachum especially emphasizes how Polly getting
married will impoverish him. Then five of Peachum’s beggars enter.
One of them complains about his fake stump, which he says is totally
inadequate, and he is not taking in enough money. Peachum replies
that it is not his fault but gives the beggar another stump to try
on. Meanwhile, Peachum examines the other beggars and finds them
wanting. They are not sufficiently pathetic to his taste. One of
them has even gained weight, so Peachum fires him. Peachum says
that artists need to tug at people’s heartstrings. The beggars exit.
The family returns to their argument about Macheath. Polly defends
Macheath, saying that he earns an excellent income. Peachum makes
the argument that when a girl is married, the first thing she does
is get divorced. Mrs. Peachum agrees that many people are seeking
divorces. Polly protests that she is in love, and her mother says
that Macheath has a bunch of different women and that when he is
hanged, many of these women will enter the scene. The word hanged sparks
an idea in Peachum. He sends Polly out and then tells Mrs. Peachum
that he will report Macheath to the sheriff, collect the forty pounds’
reward, and get Macheath hanged. Mrs. Peachum says she even knows
where to find him: at Wapping, with the whores whose company he
cannot live without. Polly has been listening at the door and re-enters
to tell her mother that Macheath would rather go to jail than to
visit the whores. She adds that even if Macheath went to jail, Brown
would help him out because they are best friends. She tells her
father that there is no record against Macheath at Scotland Yard.
Peachum is confident that his scheme will work, though. He remarks
that the world is evil and that everyone has to fight to keep what
is his or hers all the time.
Then all three step forward to sing “First Threepenny
Finale on the Uncertainty of Human Circumstances.” The song begins
with Polly protesting her love, and Peachum responds that everyone
has a right to happiness, but just because something fulfills Polly’s
happiness, it does not mean Polly should have it. He adds that if
everyone was good in the world and did not commit crimes, heaven would
be a reality. However, the world is no heaven, and Peachum says
that there is not enough of heaven to go around because morals are
lacking. The world’s condition will not permit goodness. Mrs. Peachum
and Polly take up his refrain about how miserable the world is.
He describes how everyone would like a paradise, but when there
are limited resources, even one’s family will steal to survive.
The song ends with all three directly addressing to the audience,
reprimanding them for ignoring the stupidity and baseness of the
This scene demonstrates false or vile reasoning may be
used to make correct arguments. Macheath has a powerful ally in
Brown, but Peachum thinks he can overcome that. The audience is
in the ironic position of rooting for a murderer, thief, and adulterer
to remain free. The arbitrariness of values is further developed
through Peachum’s and Mrs. Peachum’s ironic attempts to convince
their daughter to divorce Macheath. The irony of the scene lies
in the fact that they are right that Macheath is not a good match
for their daughter. He is dangerous, and he is also an incurable
womanizer. The reasons that they argue their positions, however,
are not based on their daughter’s welfare. Instead, they argue for
Polly to stay with them because if she is not at the shop to help
attract more clients, her absence will ruin the business. The Peachums
disapprove of Polly’s marriage because they worry about their finances,
not the safety of their daughter.
The scene further develops the contrast between Polly
and Peachum. Polly is motivated by love, and Peachum is only interested
in the financial gain of his business. Over the course of the scene,
Peachum’s view comes across more strongly when he continues to speak
over Polly. In her telling, love is an unstoppable force that is not
about money or decency but about a true feeling. This declaration
is incomprehensible to Peachum, of course, because anything that
does not make one richer is folly to him. In his mind, Macheath is
a competitor trying to take away one of his key assets, his daughter.
Peachum’s argument forces his daughter to use economic terms to
make her case. She claims that Macheath makes good money. Peachum
pushes further and further, until by the end of the scene his view
dominates. Polly and Mrs. Peachum sing along while he makes the
case that everyone should only look out for themselves, and in this
instance, Peachum looks out for the profit of his company.
The Peachums’ song alienates the audience because the
opinions expressed challenge the audience to consider different
points of view. Peachum sings about how one should only look out
for oneself and not for others. However, Peachum only believes this
view because he has not tried to think of others in his actions.
The audience may disagree with this belief because in society people
are taught to care for other people, not solely themselves. The
song also emphasizes that although everyone should aspire for greater
things, it does not mean everyone should have them. This part of
the song implies that no matter how hard one works for something,
he or she should not be guaranteed success. Again, society has stressed
a more positive view, so this view may not make sense to the audience. Brecht
wants to make the audience uncomfortable and even offended by these
statements. Through the lines of the song, Brecht implies that the
audience should argue with the song and come up with a way in which
the world could work better than the world portrayed in The
Peachum behaves like a frustrated director working with
inferior talent when he deals with his employees. He bemoans the
fact that his beggars are not true artists and thus cannot create
the proper feelings of pity. However, since many of Peachum’s beggars
are fake, they are not in a terrible, desperate state and therefore
have trouble eliciting sympathy from others. By pairing actors who
can “tug at people’s heartstrings” with fake beggars to sell pity
as a commodity, the play criticizes performers who measure the quality
of their acting by creating sorrow from the upper classes.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Threepenny Opera!