The Threepenny Opera

The Threepenny Opera Summary and Analysis of Scene 6

Scene Six (Act Two)

In the Old Bailey, the jail where Mac is being brought, Tiger Brown anxiously hopes that his friend has not been caught. However, he realizes that Mac is frivolous and will likely be foolish. When Brown hears sounds at the door he is worried that he will not be able to bear looking at Mac. Mac enters, accompanied by six constables. Brown tries to apologize to him but Mac's silence causes him even more grief and he leaves. Mac comments that he is glad he remained silent instead of shouting at Brown, and claims he got the trick from the Bible.

Smith enters with handcuffs. Mac immediately pulls out his checkbook and asks how much it costs to not wear any; Smith quotes a price and Mac pays him. Mac then remarks that his biggest worry is that Brown will discover the he has been playing around with Lucy, Brown's daughter. Smith tells him to deal with the problems he created. Macheath interrupts the action by singing the "Ballad of Good Living". The song describes how some people can live with starvation or by doing great deeds, but Mac claims he would rather just live well.

Lucy arrives and yells at Mac. She is furious that he married Polly. Mac pretends that he has only been with Polly a few times and claims that Polly is the one who made up the story of them being married. Lucy argues that he should make her an honest woman, implying that she is pregnant by him and that she needs to marry him to make the baby not be a bastard. Polly arrives at that moment and calls Mac her husband. Lucy becomes even more enraged and accuses Mac of having two wives. (Note: these "wives" are in name only; only Polly is legally married to Macheath). Mac tells them to both shut up, but instead they sing the "Jealousy Duet", a song in which they alternate lines and attack each other verbally.

After the song, Mac tells Lucy that Polly is just trying to come between them. Polly refuses to back down and argues that she is Mrs. Macheath. Lucy threatens her and Mac pleads with her, but all to no avail. Lucy points out that she is pregnant by Macheath, but Polly merely tells her that she should not have slept with him.

Mrs. Peachum arrives and drags Polly away. Mac takes advantage of the situation to tell Lucy that she is the only one he loves. He asks her to help him escape, and she happily gives him his cane and hat through the bars. After she leaves, Smith returns and tries to get the cane back. He is unsuccessful and Mac manages to escape. Tiger Brown shows up and rejoices.

Unfortunately for Tiger Brown, Mr. Peachum arrives and sees what has happened. Peachum has come to collect the reward for turning in Macheath. He is upset when he sees that Mac has escaped. As a result, he turns to Brown and threatens him. Peachum tells Brown a story about the coronation of Semiramis around 1400 BC. He says that the police chief in Nineveh committed a crime against the lower classes. As a result, the coronation was disrupted several times. Semiramis destroyed the police chief by feeding snakes on his flesh. After Peachum leaves, Brown hastily gets his men together.

Macheath and Low-Dive Jenny come out in front of the curtain and sing the "Second Threepenny Finale". The song argues that morals and missions are fine, but that food must come first.


Brecht includes a very clever attack on religion in this scene when he has Mac comment that he got the trick of being silent from the Bible. This is brilliant sarcasm; Brecht is alluding to the fact that God has been silent for nearly two thousand years. This silence has led people to think that God is mad at them. They therefore have bad consciences and go out of their way to please God. It is amusing to find Macheath using the same trick, and it also serves to attack society for worshipping a deity that gives nothing but silence in return.

Macheath's dilemma of having two wives, Lucy and Polly, is interesting because of his immediate choice to reject Polly. Notice that Mac's rejection of Polly is actually necesary given his predicament. He must choose Lucy over Polly; Lucy is Brown's daughter and she could therefore destroy him if she revealed their relationship to her father. Since having Tiger Brown learn the truth is what Mac fears most, he naturally focuses his attention on Lucy.

The final moment, a confrontation between Peachum and Tiger Brown, is the first indication of how Peachum succeeded in getting Mac arrested. Remember that the first scenes implied that he would never be able to defeat Mac the Knife. Peachum's story about Semiramis indicates that he is leveraging his control over the lower classes. Basically his threat is that he will ruin the coronation ceremony if Brown does not hang Macheath.

The song that ends the act is one of the most famous. The line, "Food is the first thing. Morals follow on", serves as a basis for much of the action in this play. It is an attack on the audience. Instead of morally judging what Macheath, the beggars, the whores and the thieves are doing, the song tells the audience to sympathize with them. By putting food before morals, Brecht is issuing a call to his audience to consider the actual circumstances of the characters instead of judging them abstractly.