Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
Want 100 or more?
for a customized plan.
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews December 11, 2023
December 4, 2023
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at email@example.com. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
See discount terms and conditions.
Brown walks into the jail alone and expresses his fervent
wish that Macheath not be caught. Just then, the constables bring
in Macheath and lock him in his cell. He glares silently at Brown,
who begs Macheath to say something. Finally Brown breaks down in tears
and exits. As soon as Brown goes, Macheath turns to the audience
and comments on how he treated Brown. Macheath describes how he
thought about shouting at Brown but decided instead that a cold
stare would work better. Macheath adds that he learned the trick
of glaring at someone from the Bible.
Constable Smith enters with handcuffs, and Macheath politely asks
if he may request a more comfortable pair, taking out his checkbook.
He writes Smith a check for fifty pounds in exchange for wearing
no handcuffs at all. While writing, Macheath ruminates that if Brown
finds out Macheath has been sleeping with Brown’s daughter Lucy,
then he will really be in for it. Macheath then launches into the
“The Secret of Gracious Living.” In the first verse, Macheath describes
starving artists and intellectuals who live their lives of poverty
in pursuit of an ideal. He explains that this life is not for him
because it is not really living. The second verse describes the ambitious
types who commit daring acts and brag about their exploits. But
at night they climb into barren beds with their frigid wives and
can only dream of everything before them. He concludes by noting
that although these types of people have plenty, they are not happy.
The ballad concludes. Lucy enters, visibly pregnant. She launches
into Macheath, who protests that a woman should not say such things
to her man. She says she has heard about Polly. He insists that
he never married Polly but just kissed her and then she told everyone
they were married. He offers to make Lucy an honest woman by officially
Just then, Polly enters. She rushes to Macheath, asking
why he did not flee. When he does not respond, she becomes worried.
Lucy calls her a slut, and over Macheath’s protestations, the two
women begin tearing into each other. They sing the “Jealousy Duet,”
in which each woman insults the other and brags about how Macheath
only truly loves her.
When the song ends, Macheath tells Lucy to calm down.
He then turns on Polly and asks why she keeps talking about them
being married. Polly does not accept this sudden change in behavior
and insists to Lucy that she is his wife. The confrontation between
the two women escalates. Mrs. Peachum enters to fetch Polly away from
the jail, smacks her daughter, and drags her away while she is still
calling for Macheath.
With Polly gone, Macheath thanks Lucy for helping him
out in a tight spot. He tells Lucy the only reason he was not mean
to Polly was because he felt sorry for her. Macheath and Lucy exchange sweet
nothings, and then he asks her to bring him his hat and cane. After
she tosses the cane and hat into Macheath’s cell, she leaves. Constable
Smithwalks into Macheath’s cell to demand that Macheath give up
his cane. Armed with a chair and crowbar, Smith chases Macheath
around the cell, but Macheath slides past him and escapes.
Brown enters and expresses his relief upon seeing that
Macheath is gone. Then Peachum enters, expecting to collect his
reward for capturing Macheath. Brown apologizes and tells Peachum
that there is nothing he can do about Macheath getting away. Peachum points
out that with Macheath out causing trouble, the coronation will
be a disaster for the police. He tells Brown about an event in Egyptian
times, when a police chief failed to keep the lower classes in check
during a coronation. The new queen left poisonous snakes to feed
on his chest, he recounts. Peachum strongly hints to Brown that
unless the sheriff captures Macheath, Peachum will unleash chaos
throughout the city. Brown is horrified and realizes he must capture
Macheath to save his reputation as the sheriff.
Macheath and Jenny sing the “Second Threepenny-Finale.”
The song is a direct reprimand to moralists who demand that all
humans not sin. The characters explain in the first verse that the
self-righteous should realize that food is the first thing to be
concerned with. Morals can only have a place in the world once people
are not starving. The chorus describes how society thrives through
the oppression of millions. The second verse reaffirms the same
theme, emphasizing the bankruptcy of moral police who would judge
one girl taking off her clothes as art and another girl taking them
off as pornography. What is important, they sing again, is to make
sure no one is starving. They continue to sing that as long as humankind lives
through the oppression of millions, no one can talk about morals
with a straight face.
Brown, Macheath, and Peachum are motivated by self-interest. Brown
appears saddened by betrayal of Macheath, but his guilty feelings
do not stop him from acting in his own self-interest again. From
Brown’s reaction to Macheath escaping, it is clear that Brown did
not fail Macheath out of anger or disloyalty but simply because he
was in a weak position. Faced with the possibility of being humiliated
on the day of the coronation by Peachum’s beggars, he quickly folds.
The preservation of his own reputation comes before any friend.
Macheath, in turn, quickly ditches Polly without a second thought
once he sees that Lucy can help him out of jail. He has no connection
to Polly other than his physical desire, and he also does not want
the two girls to know he has been seeing them both. By not telling
them the truth, Macheath acts in his own best interest. If Macheath
really loved Lucy and Polly as he told them he does, he would be
honest with them. Unlike the other characters, Macheath does not
struggle between self-interest and love because he only loves himself.
Peachum, meanwhile, will stop at nothing to defend his own interests,
even if it means creating chaos throughout the city. This action
was not decided because Peachum wants to disrupt the coronation.
But by unleashing his beggars, Peachum can save his business and
collect extra money for Macheath’s capture.
Macheath’s actions display two examples of the alienation
effect. Later in the scene, when Macheath is talking with Lucy,
he tells her that he would like to owe her his life, and she asks
him to say this line again to her. This exchange could be played
naturalistically, as sweet banter between two old lovers. The other
example comes earlier in the scene, when, after staring down Brown,
Macheath steps out of the scene and speaks to the audience directly
to comment on what he just did. Again the audience sees that they
are watching actors and that none of what they saw happen in the
play is really happening. These moments break the audience’s emotional
connection to the performers and leave them free to evaluate the
characters and events of the play critically.
Like Peachum, Macheath takes verses and lessons from the
Bible and uses them nefariously. By stepping out of the scene to
comment on what he did to Brown, Macheath emphasizes how the Bible’s
lessons can be bent to any purpose. Macheath describes that he glared at
Brown until Brown could not take the look any longer and broke into
tears. The irony is that Macheath learned this trick from the Bible,
and he happily notes his victory over Brown. The point is that the
Bible can be put to any use one assigns to it. The ironic hero (Macheath)
and the ironic villain (Peachum) have more in common than they think
when they pull verses and “tricks” from the Bible. The Bible’s supposedly
clear moral prescriptions are actually malleable based on interpretation:
Peachum uses biblical quotations to justify his exploitation. Macheath
reads the Bible to learn how to be a tougher guy.
Peachum’s made-up example about Egyptian history displays
his desire to grasp any means to get ahead in the world. The tale
that Peachum tells is factually incorrect in two ways: Queen Semiramis was
Assyrian, not Egyptian, and she lived in the nine century b.c., not
the fifteenth. The tale of the snakes appears to be false, an idea created
off the top of Peachum’s head to bolster his argument. This falsity
is supported by Peachum’s uncertainty as to whether the events took
place in Cairo or Nineveh (an Assyrian city in what is now Iraq).
The hesitation Peachum expresses about where the events took place
creates skepticism from the audience. The doubt in turn forces the
question of whether the story is at all accurate. Peachum intends
to frighten Brown with the story so that Brown will continue his
search for Macheath; therefore embellishing the details goes along
with the story. After all, Peachum seems to go through any means
necessary to have Macheath captured, so exaggerating or falsifying
the events of the story is in keeping with this goal.
The second finale further develops the arbitrariness of
values that is at the center of the play. Traditional moral values
would attempt to purge the characters of personal sins such as adultery,
violence, gluttony, and greed. To sort out those problems, however, Macheath
argues that one first has to sort out the problem of the starving
millions, whom society continues to profit from. So long as one
lives in a society in which the pursuit of self-interest is rewarded, the
Peachums and the Macheaths alike will thrive. All the moralizing
in the world will not change people from only thinking of themselves.
As with the first finale, the argument is intentionally open-ended.
This argument forces the audience to consider the situation and
come up with a solution. The audience sees that most of the characters
have turned to self-interest, and therefore, they are left to face
the question of how to end the oppression that exists in society.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Threepenny Opera!