The following morning is the coronation. At their shop, Peachum and Mrs. Peachum instruct the beggars in making pathetic signs. Peachum describes how he will have an army of beggars lining the route. A drum roll is heard, announcing that the coronation guard is presenting arms. Filch enters, followed by the whores. Led by Jenny, the women demand their money for turning in Macheath. Mrs. Peachum tells them they will not receive payment because Macheath has escaped. Jenny launches into a tirade about how Macheath is a gentleman and adds that the Peachums are filth compared to Macheath. She recounts that after she cried herself to sleep last night, Macheath had stopped by the brothel and awakened her. He had come to forgive her by sleeping with her. After comforting her, he went on to sleep with Jenny’s friend Suky Tawdry as well. Jenny lets it slip to Mrs. Peachum that Macheath is still with Suky.
Peachum sees his opportunity and whispers to Filch to run to the police and tell them Macheath’s location. Then he genially asks the whores to sit and have a cup of coffee. As Mrs. Peachum goes to fetch the coffee, she sings the third stanza of “The Ballad of Sexual Submissiveness.” She describes a man who is facing death but still desires sex. Peachum then exhorts his beggars to get moving. He explains his philosophy of business. His key realization is that the rich may not find difficulty in creating misery, but they cannot bear to look at it. So he rubs misery in their faces and then picks up the sympathy (money) that they leave behind.
Before the beggars can get going, Filch rushes in. He announces that the cops are on their way to see Peachum and that they were coming before he arrived at the police station. Peachum instantly understands that the cops are going to bust him and tells the beggars to hide. He tells Mrs. Peachum to start playing music if she hears him say the word harmless. She is completely mystified but agrees.
Brown enters with his constables. Clearly he has had a change of heart. Now he is going to arrest Peachum instead of going after Macheath. He pretends he does not know Peachum at all. Peachum is unfazed and politely offers him some of the whores’ coffee. Peachum explains that everyone there should be friends since they are all law-abiding people. He states that the law was made to exploit those who do not understand it or who are too poor and desperate to obey it. There is another drum roll, and Peachum tells Brown that in half an hour the poorest people will move to their positions. Brown tells him that the poor will be marched off to jail instead. He orders his men to arrest the beggars. Peachum tells him that he is welcome to arrest the people in the shop because they are harmless. The music strikes up on cue, and Peachum sings “The Song of the Futility of All Human Endeavor.” In the first verse he explains that man lives by his head but is not smart enough to actually succeed when life is so bleak. In the second verse he sings about how being bad in life does not equal success. In the third verse he concludes that with everyone competing for success, no one will win.
Peachum explains that while Brown can take a few fake beggars in the shop, the arrests will not stop the thousands of real beggars who will show up at the queen’s coronation. Peachum adds that the situation will not be in Brown’s favor when the police have to club down hundreds of cripples for the queen to make her way through the city. Brown recognizes that Peachum is threatening him but also that Peachum has the upper hand. He tells Peachum that he cannot arrest Macheath because he does not know Macheath’s whereabouts. Peachum turns to Jenny and asks her. Saddened, she gives Brown Suky Tawdry’s address. Despairing, Brown orders Constable Smith to go arrest Macheath again and then exits.
A third drum roll sounds. Peachum tells the beggars to head to the jail, presumably to ensure that Brown follows through on capturing Macheath. The beggars exit, and Peachum sings the fourth stanza of “The Song of the Futility of All Human Endeavor.” He sings that man is not good enough yet for this world, so the best thing to do is to hit him hard enough to kill him.