Scene Nine (Act Three)
The bells of Westminster start to ring, meaning that Macheath has only an hour before he is hung. He is brought on stage by Smith. One of the constables remarks that the streets are jam-packed with people (these are likely the beggars that Peachum ordered to go to the jail). He says that all the people who would have gone to the coronation are showing up for the hanging instead. Smith orders them to move faster and lock Macheath into a cell. Brown enters and asks if Mac is in the cell. He leaves without speaking to Mac.
Macheath then tries to bribe Smith by offering him a thousand pounds. Smith slowly refuses, indicating that he might take the money if Mac has it. Matthew and Jake then arrive and go to visit Mac, who chides them for taking so long. He asks them to give him all their money but they are unable to access their accounts since it is five in the morning. Smith interupts and asks what Mac wants for breakfast. Mac order asparagus.
After Matthew and Jake leave to see if they can get the money (which only amounts to four hundred pounds), Smith returns and asks Macheath if he has the cash. He tells him he only has four hundred; Smith shrugs and leaves. Polly soon arrives and forces her way in. She greets Macheath affectionately but chooses to talk about business instead of focusing on his plight. She also tells him that she has no money on her with which to help him. She breaks down and starts crying until Smith pulls her away.
Smith asks if Mac has the money yet and ushers Polly away when he realizes that Mac is not going to get the cash. He and Brown then bring Mac his asparagus. While in the cell, Brown agrees to settle up his accounts with Macheath (recall that Brown gets paid kickbacks for helping Mac committ crimes). When he pulls out his notebooks, Mac caustically comments, "Oh, so all you came for was to get your money before it's too late." They discuss the business and Mac tells Brown that he owes him thirty-eight pounds. Mac then quotes his future epilogue, causing Brown to get upset and leave him.
Smith asks for the money again and finds out that Mac does not have it. The Peachums, Jake and Matthew, Lucy, the whores, and the parson all arrive and stand next to Macheath's cell. Mr. Peachum approaches Mac and tells him that all he has left is his scar. Polly walks past in tears. Jake and Matthew inform Mac that all the other members of the gang are out stealing since it is the coronation day and they can earn a lot.
Mac delivers his last lines; he announces that the small theives are being swallowed up by the corporations backed by banks. His last words are to say goodbye to those present and to state, "So be it - I fall." Macheath then sings a song, the "Ballad in which Macheath begs all men for forgiveness". He asks ambitious men to forgive him, and includes the whores, the thieves, and the psychopaths in that category. However, he does not want the police employees to forgive him; in the end he prays that someone should bash in their faces before he asks them for forgiveness.
Mac is placed on the scaffold and Peachum delivers the last speech. In it, he says that although it would be the "Christian thing to do" to hang Macheath, they will not hang him since that ending might offend the audience. Instead, because this is an opera, Peachum indicates that a man on a horse will come to rescue Mac. Sure enough, Brown soon enters and delivers a message that the Queen has issued a royal reprieve. In addition, Macheath is made a hereditary knight and given a castle. Mac cheers at the news and Mrs. Peachum remarks that life would be nicer if such endings always occurred. Peachum then leads the company in the a song for the poorest of the poor, a song that argues that since poor people always face injustice they should not be persecuted for it. The Westminster bells can be heard ringing the last time in the background.
Peachum changes his plans in the seventh scene and sends his beggars to the hanging rather than that coronation. This has two effects: all the people show up at the hanging rather than the coronation; second, Mac's people are unable to get through the mob to rescue him. Polly becomes his last chance, but he has already rejected her in the previous scenes. Thus when she arrives she refuses to give him money, claiming that it has all been sent to a Manchester bank. This is Polly's revenge; she keeps his money.
Macheath's choice of asparagus for his last meal is strange only because it is for breakfast. This vegetable is linked to delicacies, and is therefore a wealthy person's food. Thus even facing death Macheath is struggling to rise above his position in society.
The theme of business superceding sentimentality is again introduced. When Brown finally enters the cell, Mac chooses to settle up their business first. He even explicitly states, "No sentimentality". When Brown agrees, Mac yells at him for only caring about money. Mac then reads his own epilogue, infuriating Brown in the process by reminding his former friend that he has killed him.
Mac's final speech is quite important. In the speech he accuses big business of doing exactly what he does, namely being a thief. The only difference is that the big companies do it with more money and legally. Notice that this is what he was planning to do: Mac wanted Polly to take the money and set up a bank with it, thereby getting rid of his men and entering a more reliable business.
One of the questions which must be looked at is why Brecht has the official on a horse. This is the fairy-tale ending, meant to undermine our sense of justice at the end. The hero of a traditional opera always triumphs, and Mac is the hero of the play even if we cannot or do not want to identify with him. Mrs. Peachum says, "How nice and easy everything would be if you could always reckon with saviors on horseback." In her words we find Brecht's ironic commentary of what is obviously a fake ending.
The issue of class re-emerges when the Queen raises Mac to the hereditary peerage. By giving him a knighthood she elevates him into the highest class, the leisurely class of aristocracy with guaranteed income. This further undermines the issues of class present in the play; Mac manages to leapfrog the bourgeois society and lands comfortably in the aristocratic class. It also serves as yet another wry commentary on Brecht's own society which he saw rewarding people he considered to be criminals.