Summary

Constables bring Macheath into the death cell at the jail. The time is 5:04 a.m. The constables say that Macheath will be hanged at 6 a.m. One of the constables mentions that a huge crowd is forming around the jail. At this rate no one will be there to see the queen’s coronation at 7 a.m., because they will all be at Macheath’s hanging. The constables lock Macheath’s cell, and then Brown enters. Without looking at Macheath, he tells Constable Smith that he wants nothing to do with Macheath’s hanging. He exits.

As soon as he is gone, Macheath breaks into an elegant plea to one of the constables, Smith. Macheath tells Smith he will not say a word about bribery; he just wants to know how much it might cost for him to buy his freedom. He tells Smith to think it over. Smith tells Macheath that Macheath is talking nonsense, but Smith listens carefully. After Macheath sings of the bribery, Smith leaves.

Alone, Macheath sings a single stanza from “Call from the Grave,” pleading for help before it is too late. Matthew and Jacob appear. The time is now 5:25. Macheath asks whether they can get four hundred pounds. Jacob says that is everything they have left in the bank, and Macheath protests that he is the one being hanged. Matthew tells Macheath he should have been out of town anyway. Smith sticks his head in to ask what Macheath wants for his final meal, and Macheath answers that he wants asparagus. Macheath prevails upon his men to run out and get as much money as they can.

Smith re-enters and asks how much money Macheath can get. Macheath tells him four hundred pounds, and Smith shrugs noncommittally. As Smith exits, Macheath calls after him that he wants to speak with Brown. Macheath sings another stanza from “Call from the Grave,” now even more desperately calling for aid.

Polly shows up to visit Macheath. He asks how she is holding up, and she says the business is doing very well. She begins to ask all the questions she has never asked him, but he cuts her off to ask for money. She says it is all gone off to the banks, like he ordered. She breaks down crying, and Smith pulls her away from the cell, asking whether Macheath has raised the money yet. She exits, asking Macheath to never forget her.

Brown and Smith bring a table in to Macheath with his asparagus on it. Macheath acts coldly toward Brown. He asks Brown to go over their accounts, the tally of the bribes that Macheath owes him. Brown is despondent, but he takes out the account book. As soon as he does, Macheath is furious that Brown would expect money from his friend who is about to be hanged. Macheath insists on a full detailed bill. Offstage the sound of men working on the gallows can be heard.