The Threepenny Opera

The Threepenny Opera Summary and Analysis of Scene 5

Scene Five (Act Two)

A member of Mac's gang named Jake is in a brothel where he is telling the women that Mac the Knife would not be foolish enough to show up. No sooner has he made this claim than Mac walks in and surprises them all. Jake asks him why he is not in Highgate, running away, and Mac replies that it is Thursday and he will not let his problems interfer with his habits.

Low-Dive Jenny takes his palm and starts to read it. She warns him that someone with a name starting with a J will betray him. Mac laughs and tells her she is wrong, that the letter must instead be a P. Mac then diverts the conversation to discussing the whore's underwear, during which Jenny slips outside. Mac then starts to tell them all about his previous history with Jenny. He sings a song about his life with her called the "Ballad of Immoral Earnings". Mac describes how he used to live with Jenny and pimp her out to other men, but he describes the life nostalgically.

Jenny has meanwhile gotten Constable Smith and Mrs. Peachum and brought them to arrest Mac. She takes up the song and sings about how Mac would beat her up all the time. The then alternate verses, again making the past seem idyllic and nostalgic. Smith walks into the brothel and tries to arrest Macheath; Macheath knocks him down and jumps out the window. However, Mrs. Peachum is standing right where he lands and she has several constables with her. Jenny wakes up Jake, who was so engrossed in his reading that he did not even notice the arrest.


Brecht ironically foreshadows Macheath's arrest by having Jenny read Mac's palm. She tells him the person who will betray him has a name that starts with a J, causing Macheath to instead claim it starts with a P. The audience already knows that Jenny is the real traitor, but the ambiguity causes several different people to be accused of betraying Mac. Recall that Tiger Brown is known as "Jackie", and his role later in the play shows that he too is forced to betray his friendship with Mac. The seen also cleverly includes Jake, Mac's henchman, who fails to help his boss when the constables arrive; this can be viewed as another form of betrayal. Interestingly, Macheath chooses to instead blame P. This also has multiple meanings and can mean either Polly or Peachum.

Brecht continues to make fun of bourgeois society by attacking its nostalgia. One of the main attributes of the middle class is a preference for an idealized past. This is reflected in a great deal of literature, with concepts such as the "golden ages", the "golden years", or the Romantic period playing a key role. Brecht attacks this naive view of the past by having Mac sing about his life with Jenny. Mac makes the couple seem idyllic even though it they live in a whorehouse. Jenny also wishes for the past again even while telling us how Mac used to knock her down the stairs. Thus Brecht uses the two of them to combine elements of bourgeois nostalgia with lower class crudity.

Jake does not notice the arrest of Macheath because he is too engrossed in reading the list of crimes that Macheath and the gang are accused of. His reading can be associated with wealth; reading is a pasttime or leisure enjoyed by the upper and middle classes, not the poor. Brecht thus implies that the middle classes are oblivious to the actuality of what is happening around them. Instead of being involved in events, people who read merely reflect on them; it is similar to a person reading about the weather in the newspaper rather than going for a walk outside. This sense of wonder that the bourgeois class experiences when "reality" confronts them is expressed by Jake, who remarks, "Good God! And me just reading, reading, reading...Well, I never!" He is shocked by the events that have taken place while ironically reading the arrest warrant. Thus Jake, engrossed in the past events, fails to see the present.