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Macheath lies in bed in the stable. Polly enters and tells
him that her father has been to see Brown and that Macheath needs
to leave immediately. Macheath is not scared and asks Polly to come
join him in the bed. In an attempt to calm her, Macheath reminds
her that he does not have a record at Scotland Yard. Polly protests
that although he had no record the day before, after her father’s
visit to Brown, he now has a long list of crimes, including murders,
burglaries, robberies, arsons, and seducing two sisters under the
age of consent. Macheath suavely says that the sisters told him
they were twenty. Then he asks what Brown said, and Polly tells
him that Brown said he could not help Macheath any longer.
Macheath realizes his situation is serious and that Polly
will have to run the business in his absence. In a reversal of the
first interaction in the scene, Polly now wants to take him to bed,
but Macheath insists on talking business. He shows her all his ledgers
and explains how to handle all his thieves. At first, Polly can
barely think about such things and sobs throughout his instructions,
but she eventually agrees to take responsibility. Macheath tells
her to continue sending the profits to a banking house in Manchester
and adds that he will soon be getting out of petty crime and into
banking because it is safer and more profitable. His last instruction
is that in two weeks Polly should put all the business’s money in
the bank and turn in all of his thieves.
Just then, the thieves enter. Macheath explains that he
has to leave. Matthew protests that it is a shame he has to leave
when the coronation is coming. Macheath explains that Polly will
be in charge while he is gone. Matthew continues to protest, and
with Macheath’s prodding, Polly tears into him with a vengeance.
There is a brief pause, and then all the men applaud her performance because
they agree that she will make a fine crime boss. Before the criminals
leave, Macheath reprimands Matthew for drinking too much. He says
that last week Matthew took credit for setting the children’s hospital
on fire. He asks all the men to tell him who set the hospital on
fire. They all reply that Macheath did. The thieves exit.
Alone again, Macheath and Polly say their goodbyes. Polly
worries that Macheath will be unfaithful while he is away. Macheath promises
that he would never be unfaithful. Desperately in love, Polly asks
him to stay. She is afraid that their love is coming to a close.
She tells him about a dream she had the night before, in which she
looked out the window and saw the moon that was the size of a faded
penny. They kiss, and Macheath exits. Alone onstage, Polly says
that he will never come back. She tells herself to tear her heart out
and get over it. Then she questions why women should grieve when
their mothers have already experienced grief. She asks the Virgin
Mary to pity women. The bells marking the arrival of the queen begin
The scene emphasizes the characters’ trust for one another.
Brown, who just a moment ago was swearing his friendship to Macheath, has
now quickly folded under pressure from Peachum. Clearly he is not
as loyal a friend as he had claimed, and Macheath hardly even expresses
surprise. On the one hand, Macheath’s reaction to Brown’s betrayal
is ironic because if the two were best friends, like Macheath says
they are, he would feel the betrayal much deeper. On the other hand,
this betrayal causes Macheath to trust his new wife. Based on what
her parents told Polly before and from what she heard from the criminals,
she knows to second-guess what Macheath tells her. However, she
tries to believe him because she loves him. The list of Macheath’s
previous wrongdoings sparks a conflict in Polly because she realizes
Macheath is a criminal, but she will do anything to help him because
of her feelings for him. Polly loves Macheath, but at the same time,
she is unsure of whether she can trust him because Macheath did
not reveal his past crimes to her. This trust Polly feels with Macheath
demonstrates the conflict between self-interest and love.
This scene establishes Macheath as an ironic hero. As
a literary technique, irony occurs when someone or something is
the opposite from what was expected. In Macheath’s case, his charisma
is undeniable: He dresses well, is sexually appealing, makes funny
jokes, and has a good head for business. But at the same time, all
of his actions are wrong by the moral standards of society. He kills,
sleeps with underage girls, sells out his best friends to the law,
and even actively takes credit for burning down a children’s hospital.
Moreover, no effort is made to reconcile these aspects of Macheath,
which makes his status as a hero ironic. Macheath never feels guilty
for his crimes because to him, the crimes are simply business. The
unreconciled incongruity between Macheath’s outward appearance and
his behavior creates a strong sense of irony in The Threepenny
Opera. He does the opposite of what a charming hero is
expected to do. The irony generates the question of whether Macheath
is a decent person forced to survive in a rotten world or if he
is a rotten person who disguises his true being through charm. However,
the play implies that perhaps there is no difference between those
two perspectives. In a world in which even surviving requires trampling
others, no one can be truly good at heart, and only the wealthy
have the luxury of talking about morality.
Polly deepens as a character by standing up to the thieves
when Macheath announces she is their new crime boss. She is gradually dragged
into taking an active role in Macheath’s unpleasant business as
a result of her love. When Polly enters, all she wants is for Macheath
to flee and to be safe. However, when Macheath insists that she
learn about the business, she resists at first but then slowly starts
to agree to her responsibilities as a way of showing her love for him.
By accepting these new responsibilities, she begins to change. And
as soon as Macheath’s criminals show up, she proves that she is ready
for the task of running the gang by exploding into a rage at Matthew.
This roughness displays a side of Polly that has not been seen yet.
She is not just a naïve girl trying to fit in with a dangerous crowd;
she has reserves of toughness and perhaps cruelty within her. Nevertheless,
she remains primarily defined by her love, as she drops her hardened
attitude when the thieves leave. Yet she seems to have grown deeper
nonetheless by taking over her husband’s business. At the end of
the scene, she acknowledges what has been apparent all along, that
he is untrustworthy and will break her heart.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Threepenny Opera!