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.