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The Threepenny Opera
Polly, the only daughter of Mr. Peachum, king of the beggars,
marries the notorious thief Macheath. Motivated by his own self-interest,
Peachum not only disapproves of the match, but he also sees Macheath
as a mortal enemy and threat to his business. He and his wife, Celia,
hatch a plan to get Macheath arrested and hanged, but Polly informs
them that London’s chief of police, Tiger Brown, attended their
wedding as a friend of the groom. The two friends, who served together
in the Indian army, enjoy a symbiotic relationship in which Brown
informs Macheath of possible arrests, and Macheath lets Brown know
when a crime is about to take place.
Trying to catch Macheath, Mrs. Peachum enlists the help
of Macheath’s former lover, the prostitute Jenny. She agrees to
give up Macheath’s location for ten shillings and tells Mrs. Peachum
that even if Macheath is trying to outwit the police, he will not
give up his Thursday visit to the brothel. Mr. Peachum blackmails
Brown into capturing Macheath by threatening that he will set his
brood of beggars loose on the grounds of Buckingham Palace before
the queen’s coronation on Friday. Trapped, Brown agrees to arrest
When Macheath enters the brothel, Jenny reads his palm,
suggesting that Macheath will be betrayed by someone whose name begins
with the letter J. Soon after, Constable Smith captures him and
throws him in jail at the Old Bailey. Polly visits him in jail,
but Lucy, Brown’s daughter and another of Macheath’s women, interrupts
them. Lucy and Polly begin arguing over who is the rightful wife
of Macheath. Lucy reveals that she’s pregnant. After Polly—kicking
and screaming—is collected by Mrs. Peachum, Macheath asks Lucy to
bring him his hat and cane. Smith soon opens the cage to remove
Macheath’s personal effects, but while the door is open, Macheath
Jenny goes to Peachum’s office and demands her ten shillings. When
Mrs. Peachum denies her payment because of Macheath’s escape, Jenny
betrays his location once again, revealing that he is with the prostitute
Suky Tawdry. Brown bursts in to arrest Peachum for threatening to
set his beggars loose at the coronation. Brown orders the constables
to arrest the beggars, but Peachum warns Brown that capturing them
will disrupt the coronation, create a huge mess for the police,
and ruin Brown’s reputation as sheriff. Prompted by Peachum, Jenny
reveals Macheath’s location once again, and Brown calls an emergency
conference of sergeants. Peachum sends the beggars to the jail,
expecting that the police will capture Macheath.
Quickly discovered, Macheath is thrown back in jail and informed
that he will be executed on Friday at six in the evening. Macheath
attempts to bribe Smith with a thousand pounds, although a consultation
with two of his fellow thieves reveals that only the sum of four
hundred pounds is available. When Smith goes to fetch Macheath’s
last meal, Polly and Brown enter with their apologies and last words
and are soon joined by the rest of the characters. Macheath cries
for mercy, but when the group reaches the gallows, a mounted messenger
appears, bringing news that the queen has demanded the release of
Macheath. As the crowd cheers, both Mr. and Mrs. Peachum address
the audience, reminding them that happy endings do not happen in
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Threepenny Opera!