After Peachum finishes singing, Jenny sings “The Song of Solomon.” In this song, each verse describes a different character with a different virtue. The twist is that each character’s virtue is what brings him or her to doom. Each verse concludes with Jenny singing that a fortunate person does not have the virtue she describes. First comes Solomon, who was too wise for his own good. Second is Cleopatra, who was too beautiful. Third is Caesar, who was too courageous. Fourth is Brecht himself, who was too inquisitive. The final example is Macheath, who is too emotional.
Brecht emphasizes self-interest through Peachum’s speech about preying on the wealthy’s self-interest. The wealthy class desires not to feel guilty, which motivates them to give money to Peachum’s beggars. As a result, the wealthy class’s donation alleviates their guilt. Peachum’s speech about how he uses the guilt of the rich to earn his living also displays his concern for only himself. However, one would argue that if human beings are creatures driven only by self-interest, they should not have feelings of sympathy that lead them to give money to the poor. Yet Peachum is still in business, which means the rich continue to feel guilty and provide to the beggars. Peachum even attempts to elicit sympathy from the audience when he explains how the rich do not care if they create misery, yet they do not want to see the misery. If Peachum embraces sympathy, then it must be hypocritical because he only does it for the wealth of his business. Peachum continues to play the part of the villain because he profits off those who are poor and are pretending to be poor. Peachum does not give another thought to the beggars who are too poor to go into business with him and give a share of their money to him. In the play, sympathy is used as another example of how hypocritical and cruel human beings are. Instead of changing the economic and social system that creates human misery, people would rather throw a few pennies at the homeless man on the corner. Peachum knows that society is not willing to change the economic and social system, which is why his business continues to profit.
“The Song of the Futility of All Human Endeavor” emphasizes the competitiveness of the capitalist system. Immediately following this song, Peachum explains that Brown cannot stop him because of how the beggars will affect the queen’s coronation. Brown’s powerlessness is not merely a matter of being unable to muster enough police to arrest all the beggars in London; he is powerless because everyone is part of a powerless system. Brown’s main concern to save his reputation as a sheriff by finding a way for Peachum’s beggars not to disrupt the coronation has ruined his reputation as a sheriff. By attempting to stay loyal to a thief and murderer, Brown has compromised his job as the sheriff because he has been forced to give in to threats. Brown’s relationship with Macheath was intended to boost his role as the sheriff. Instead, their arrangement has only caused problems because Brown realized he could not choose loyalty to his criminal friend over his duty as the sheriff. As Peachum sings, when everyone tries to attain happiness, happiness cannot be reached. The characters live in a system that breeds brutal competition, so Peachum’s and Brown’s efforts to defeat one another is not out of the ordinary. Peachum will do anything to make money: If releasing his beggars on the coronation will help him receive that reward for Macheath’s capture and save his business, he will do it.
Peachum’s logic for obeying the law also demonstrates the arbitrariness of values. Peachum argues that one should not only obey the law because it is right but because the law helps people to exploit the weak and stupid. His last reason for the obeying the law conveniently fits with Peachum’s purpose for his business. By employing beggars to seek sympathy from the higher classes, Peachum thinks he is helping the wealthier citizens see how others who are not as fortunate live everyday. Peachum’s scheme is an example of how villains normally work. In traditional dramas, the villain would be someone who pursues evil for its own ends. He would be the self-proclaimed enemy of morality. Such a character would actually reinforce conventional moral positions by showing how horrible their opposites are. In The Threepenny Opera, however, the villain Peachum advocates conventional moral positions. By making such a character the villain, Brecht poses the question of whether conventional morality has any validity at all. Although Peachum believes he is devoted to obeying the law, he in fact translates the law under his terms, which results in the arbitrariness of values.
“The Song of Solomon” that Jenny sings at the end of the scene continues Brecht’s method of alienating the audience. Jenny’s song describes a series of characters who possessed traditional virtues but who were doomed because of them. In so doing, Brecht criticizes traditional virtues as being actually vices, because they lead to downfall. Brecht even includes himself as one of the characters to further distance the audience from the action of the play and make them think critically. Most importantly, Jenny does not offer virtues to take the place of those traditionally admired. This argument about virtues as vices, where Brecht demolishes a traditional idea but does not offer a solution in its place, is intended to make the audience think of the answer. Questions arise over what a virtue is and if any of the virtues Jenny lists are worthwhile or if they should be discarded. Brecht asks these questions to force the audience to examine their own values.