GERM 1027 Essay
Length: Approximately 800-900 words and 100-150 words outline
Citation Format: MLA
Essays should be around five pages (not including the bibliography). As with the
essay samples that I have provide to you. Your essay should have a title that
reflects not only your topic but your argument about that topic;
An introductory paragraph that introduces your topic, suggests how it will be
approached in regards to the text, and closes with a clear and specific thesis
statement; supporting paragraphs organized around points that support your
thesis and that open with a strong topic sentence (topic sentence); specific
evidence (Textual Evidence)from the primary text itself; and a strong conclusion
that reinforces your thesis and suggests something about its wider implications.
The essay samples on I provided are very clear in regards to what I am looking for,
so be sure to look over these before and while writing. Be specific, be organized,
and be sure to make good use of the text when making your case.
When it comes to quoting from the text, be sure to comment on the quotes you
use and incorporate them into your larger argument. If you have any questions
while writing your essay, or if you would like me to look over a draft of your
essay, please let me know.
Be sure to have an introduction that develops a topic, connects it to the text,
and establishes a clear, concise, and convincing thesis. Your supporting
paragraphs should be well organized, developed with strong topic
sentences, and constructed in such a way that there is a clear, logical
transition from point to point. You should use the text to illustrate and
develop your points. Finally, your conclusion should reiterate your thesis,
show how it was arrived at, and suggest something about its wider
When it does come to preparing, I would recommend that pick a topic that
interests you, that you establish your thesis/argument, that you chart out
3-4 argumentative points that can serve as your paragraphs and help to
support that thesis, and that you find the relevant passages/quotations that
you will use for support in your essay. When it comes to quoting from the
text, shorter passages can be quoted in their entirety, while longer passages
(anything more than three lines) can be quoted with the first few words, an
ellipsis, and the last few words, e.g. “I have perhaps not yet learnt
enough … now with my other eyes” (161-62).
【An additional outline】Approximately 100-200 words
You need to write an additional sheet with your thesis statement (not
your introductory paragraph), and your 3-4 supporting points in jot note
Essay questions (topic):
How does Brecht dramatize the struggle between the demands of selfinterest and the duties of love? To what ends?
Important notes:
1. please tell me which ESSAY QUESTION you wrote
2. please use some textual evidence from the book to support your analysis
(you NEED to establish 3 or more argumentative points, which is textual
3. PLEASE write down the page number in the end of the sentence which is
the textual evidence. When it comes to quoting from the texts, shorter
passages can be quoted in their entirety, while longer passages can be quoted
with the first few words, an ellipsis, and then the last words (For example :
“Right. Shouts. Mrs Peachum!……… which there are five was dummies.”
(Brecht, 22). )
Methuen Drama Modern Classics
The Methuen Drama Modern Plays series has always been at the forefront of modern
playwriting and has reflected the most exciting developments in modern drama since
1959. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Methuen Drama, the series was
relaunched in 2009 as Methuen Drama Modern Classics, and continues to offer readers a
choice selection of the best modern plays.
The Threepenny Opera
First staged in 1928 at the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, Berlin (now the home of the
Berliner Ensemble), The Threepenny Opera was Brecht’s first and most outstanding
success. Based on John Gay’s eighteenth-century Beggar’s Opera, the play is a satire on
the capitalist bourgeois society of the Weimar Republic despite its setting in a mockVictorian Soho. With Kurt Weill’s music, which was one of the earliest and most
successful attempts to introduce the jazz idiom into the theatre, it became a popular hit
throughout the western world. Filmed three times, it remains one of Brecht’s best loved
and most performed plays.
This new translation, first staged in 1975 at York Theatre Royal and subsequently at the
Adelaide Playhouse and the Lincoln Center, New York, is by John Willett and Ralph
Manheim, who also include Brecht’s own notes and discarded songs as well as an
extensive editorial commentary on the genesis of the play.
Bertolt Brecht was born in Augsburg on 10 February 1898, and died in Berlin on 14
August 1956. He grew to maturity as a playwright in the frenetic years of the twenties and
early thirties, with such plays as Man equals Man, The Threepenny Opera, Mahagonny
and The Mother. He left Germany when Hitler came to power in 1933, eventually reaching
the United States in 1941, where he remained until 1947. It was during this period of exile
that such masterpieces as The Life of Galileo, Mother Courage, The Caucasian Chalk
Circle and Puntila were written. Shortly after his return to Europe in 1947 he founded the
Berliner Ensemble, and from then until his death was mainly occupied in producing his
own plays.
Other Bertolt Brecht publications by Bloomsbury Methuen Drama
Brecht Collected Plays: One
(Baal, Drums in the Night, In the Jungle of Cities, The Life of Edward II of
England, A Respectable Wedding, The Beggar or the Dead Dog,
Driving Out a Devil, Lux in Tenebris, The Catch)
Brecht Collected Plays: Two
(Man Equals Man, The Elephant Calf, The Threepenny Opera,
The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, The Seven Deadly Sins)
Brecht Collected Plays: Three
(Lindbergh’s Flight, The Baden-Baden Lesson on Consent, He Said
Yes/He Said No, The Decision, The Mother, The Exception and
the Rule, The Horations and the Curiatians, St Joan of the Stockyards)
Brecht Collected Plays: Four
(Round Heads and Pointed Heads, Fear and Misery of the Third Reich,
Señora Carrar’s Rifles, Dansen, How Much Is Your Iron?,
The Trial of Lucullus)
Brecht Collected Plays: Five
(Life of Galileo, Mother Courage and Her Children)
Brecht Collected Plays: Six
(The Good Person of Szechwan, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui,
Mr Puntila and His Man Matti)
Brecht Collected Plays: Seven
(The Visions of Simone Machard, Schweyk in the Second World War,
The Caucasian Chalk Circle, The Duchess of Malfi)
Brecht Collected Plays: Eight
(The Days of the Commune, The Antigone of Sophocles,
Turandot or the Whitewashers’ Congress)
Berliner Ensemble Adaptations – publishing 2014
(The Tutor, Coriolanus, The Trial of Joan of Arc at Rouen 1431,
Don Juan, Trumpets and Drums)
Bertolt Brecht Journals, 1934-55
Brecht on Art and Politics
Brecht on Film and Radio
Brecht on Performance – publishing 2014
Brecht on Theatre – publishing 2014
Brecht in Practice – publishing 2014
The Craft of Theatre: Seminars and Discussions in Brechtian Theatre
Brecht, Music and Culture – publishing 2014
Brecht in Context
The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht
Brecht: A Choice of Evils
Bertolt Brecht: A Literary Life – publishing 2014
A Guide to the Plays of Bertolt Brecht
The Threepenny Opera
translated by Ralph Manheim and John Willet
Original work entitled
Die Dreigroschenoper
edited and introduced by
John Willet and Ralph Manheim
After John Gay: The Beggar’s Opera
Texts by Brecht
Additional songs from ‘The Bruise’
On The Threepenny Opera
Notes to The Threepenny Opera
Note by Kurt Weill
About The Threepenny Opera (a public letter)
From a conversation between Brecht and Giorgio Strehler on 25 October 1955 with
regard to the forthcoming Milan production
Editorial Notes
1. General
2. The 1928 stage script
3. From the stage script to the present text
First staged only two years after Man equals Man, The Threepenny Opera was a very
different kind of achievement. For where the earlier play had its roots in Brecht’s
Augsburg youth and developed under a variety of influences over many years, The
Threepenny Opera – or, more precisely, Brecht’s contribution to it – was quickly written
for a specific purpose. Moreover although both remained among his favourite plays he
showed his affection this time not by continually revising the text as he did with Man
equals Man but by leaving the original version unchanged and instead developing it first
as a film story, then as a novel. What we have here therefore is the work as it was written
and staged just half a century ago in 1928. Like all his plays it is something of a montage,
embracing elements from different sources and periods. But far more than most of them it
remains nailed to a particular moment in German history.
The second half of the 1920s was the stable period of the Weimar Republic, starting in
1924, once the effects of the inflation began to be overcome and the new American capital
began flowing into the country, and ending in 1929 with the Wall Street crash. In the
theatre it began with a succession of new-style productions, among which Brecht’s
Edward II and Erich Engel’s Coriolanus early in 1925 were significant as leading to a
general re-evaluation of the classics; but the real landmark was Carl Zuckmayer’s Der
fröhliche Weinberg at the end of that year, with its revelation of the public appetite for
literate but unpretentious down-to-earth comedy. Brecht at this time was trying to grapple
with the problem of writing plays about the modern world, with all its economic
complexities and its wide-ranging interrelationships, and this led both to a more conscious
development of the ‘epic’ form and to a new fascination with the economic analysis put
forward by Karl Marx, whom he started reading in 1926. It must have been this twofold
interest, coupled with his growing reputation as one of the most vocal and original of the
younger playwrights, that took him into the collective of ‘dramaturgs’ formed by Erwin
Piscator when he set up his first independent company at the Theater am Nollendorfplatz
in the autumn of 1927. Though this was a Berlin West End theatre, appealing largely to a
fashionable audience, its politics were Communist and its four productions established
new ways of tackling just the sort of themes that had begun plaguing Brecht. None the
less the particular plays which he was trying to write – notably Joe P. Fleischhacker,
based on Frank Norris’s novel The Pit about the Chicago wheat market, and Decline of the
Egoist Johann Fatzer about soldiers deserting in the First World War – were neither
performed there nor even completed. Indeed from Man equals Man in 1926 to Saint Joan
of the Stockyards in 1931 he remained unable to finish the large-scale plays that
preoccupied him most.
At the same time his first meeting with Kurt Weill in the spring of 1927, soon after
Weill’s enthusiastic review of the Berlin Radio broadcast of Man equals Man, gave him a
new and promising line to follow. Weill, who had been one of Busoni’s handful of pupils
at the Berlin Academy, was becoming known as a dissonant, strongly contrapuntal neoclassical composer to be ranked with Hindemith, Toch and Ernst Křenek, but he was also
a man of considerable literary judgement who had been collaborating with two of the few
playwrights about whom Brecht had anything good to say: Georg Kaiser and Iwan Goll.
Enormously impressed not only by the broadcast but also by Brecht’s first book of poems,
the Devotions, Weill now wished to collaborate with him too. According to Weill’s
account they had no sooner met than they started discussing the opera medium; the word
‘Mahagonny’ cropped up, and with it the notion of a ‘paradise city’. In other words, so it
would appear, Brecht at the outset introduced him to that notion of a ‘Mahagonny Opera’
which he had brought with him from Munich (originally with his first wife Marianne in
mind, she being an opera singer), and which related to the ‘Mahagonny Songs’ in the
Devotions. The idea of turning this into a full-scale opera was thus already in the air when
Weill got a commission to contribute one of a series of short operas to the forthcoming
Baden-Baden ‘German Chamber Music’ festival that summer. Basing himself on the
‘Mahagonny Songs’, and making some use of Brecht’s own tunes for them, he started in
May to compose the jazzy ‘songspiel’ now known as The Little Mahagonny which was
performed at Baden-Baden in a boxing-ring stage in July. After this the two collaborators
worked throughout the rest of the year on the libretto for the full-scale opera, which was
ready for Weill to begin composing early in 1928.
In effect then it can be said that Brecht started the year of The Threepenny Opera with
three main irons in the fire. There was his technically and politically stimulating job with
Piscator, which was now involving him in the rewriting of the official Schweik adaptation
to suit the revolutionary staging which Piscator and his designer George Grosz had
devised. There were his own incomplete social-political plays, one of which –
Fleischhacker – had already been announced on Piscator’s prospectus. And then there was
the very promising collaboration with Weill, involving also his own preferred designer
Caspar Neher (who was outside Piscator’s scheme of things). Looking now at the state of
the German theatre at the time it can be seen that any reliance on Piscator involved
considerable risks, for he was already far exceeding his budgeted costs and the
combination of bad planning and expensive technical innovations was soon to be fatal.
None the less it was Piscator who sparked off a wave of interest in the Zeitstück, or ‘play
of the times’, from which a number of other left-wing writers benefited and which might
well have led to a production for one of Brecht’s essays in the genre. Oddly enough,
however, it was the opera medium which reflected this first, following the impact of
Křenek’s jazz opera Jonny spielt auf in February (Leipzig premiere) and October (Berlin
production) 1927. And with Klemperer’s appointment that year to head the Kroll-Oper,
the second state opera house in Berlin, a unique centre for modern opera was created in
which such associates of Brecht’s as Neher and Ernst Legal and Jacob Geis (both of
whom had been involved with Man equals Man) were soon to find employment.
The critical moment came in March–April 1928, when Piscator had taken on a second
theatre and was fast heading for bankruptcy. Some three months earlier a new
management had been set up in Berlin, headed by a young actor called Ernst-Josef
Aufricht, once a member of Berthold Viertel’s much respected company ‘Die Truppe’.
Around Christmas he had been given 100,000 marks by his father with which to open his
own Berlin theatre, and he used this to rent the medium-sized late nineteenth-century
Theater am Schiffbauerdamm not far from Reinhardt’s Deutsches Theater. He booked
Erich Engel, then busy with Brecht’s Man equals Man at the Volksbühne, to direct the
opening production, if possible to coincide with his own twenty-eighth birthday on 31
August. All that remained was to find a play. This was not quite so simple, even after he
had brought in a young friend of Karl Kraus’s called Heinrich Fischer to help him and act
as his deputy. Kraus, Wedekind, Toller, Feuchtwanger, Kaiser, even the much older
Sudermann were in turn considered or actually approached, but to no effect. Then one of
those happy accidents occurred which go to make theatre history: Fischer ran into Brecht
in a café, introduced him to Aufricht and asked if he had anything that would answer their
needs. Brecht’s own work in progress – presumably Fleischhacker – would not do; it was
already promised – presumably to Piscator – and Aufricht appears to have been bored by
his account of it. But Brecht also mentioned a translation of John Gay’s The Beggar’s
Opera which his collaborator Elisabeth Hauptmann had begun making the previous
November. This eighteenth-century satire had been an immense success in Nigel Playfair’s
revival at the Lyric, Hammersmith some five or six years earlier, and to the two
entrepreneurs the idea ‘smelt of theatre’. They read all that had so far been written, under
the provisional title Gesindel, or Scum, and decided that this was the play with which to
Just how much Brecht had had to do with the script at this exploratory stage is
uncertain, but he now took the lead and proposed that Weill should be brought in to write
modern settings for the songs. Aufricht, by his own account, thereupon went privately to
hear two of Weill’s Kaiser operas, was appalled by their atonality and told his musical
director Theo Mackeben to get hold of the traditional Pepusch arrangements in case Weill
came up with something impossibly rebarbative. In mid-May the whole team were packed
off to Le Lavandou in the south of France to complete the work: the Brechts, the Weills,
Hauptmann, Engel. Here, and subsequently on the Ammersee in Bavaria, Brecht seems to
have written some brand-new scenes (the stable wedding for instance, which bears no
relation to Gay’s original), and started adding his own songs, four of them piratically
derived from a German version of Villon. On 1 August rehearsals started, with a
duplicated script which, as our notes show, still contained a good deal of the original
work, as well as songs by Gay himself and Rudyard Kipling which later disappeared. A
succession of accidents, catastrophes and stopgaps then occurred. Carola Neher, who was
to play Polly, arrived a fortnight late from her husband Klabund’s deathbed, and
abandoned her part; Roma Bahn was recruited and learned it in four days. Feuchtwanger
suggested the new title; Karl Kraus added the second verse to the Jealousy Duet. Helene
Weigel, cast as Mrs Coaxer the brothel Madame, developed appendicitis and the part was
cut. The cabaret singer Rosa Valetti objected to the ‘Song of Sexual Obsession’ which she
had to sing as Mrs Peachum, so this too went; Käte Kühl as Lucy could not manage the
florid solo which Weill had written for another actress in scene 8, so this was eliminated
and later the scene itself was cut; Weill’s young wife Lotte Lenya was accidentally left off
the printed programme; the play was found to be three-quarters of an hour too long,
leading to massive cuts in Peachum’s part and the dropping of the ‘Solomon Song’; the
finale was only written during the rehearsals; and late on the ‘Ballad of Mac the Knife’
was added as an inspired afterthought.
All accounts agree that the production’s prospects seemed extremely bad, with only
Weill’s music and Caspar Neher’s sets remaining unaffected by the mounting chaos. Even
the costumes were simply those available, so Brecht was to say later (p. 103), while the
Victorian setting was decided less by the needs of the story than by the shortage of time.
The dress rehearsal must have been disastrous, the reactions of the first-night audience a
confirmation of this, lasting right into the second scene, even after the singing of ‘Pirate
Jenny’ in the stable. But with the ‘Cannon Song’ the applause suddenly burst loose. Quite
unexpectedly, inspiredly, improvisedly, management and collaborators found themselves
with the greatest German hit of the 1920s on their hands.
It struck Berlin during an interregnum, as it were: at a moment when Piscator had
temporarily disappeared as an active force in the left-wing theatre and the various
collective groups which succeeded him had not yet got off the ground. For Brecht and
Weill there was now the composition of Mahagonny to be resumed – something that was
only completed in November 1929 – as well as a small Berlin Requiem which Weill had
agreed to write for Radio Frankfurt on texts by Brecht, and which they sketched out in
November and December 1928. Both men probably also had some involvement in the
production of Feuchtwanger’s second ‘Anglo-Saxon Play’ Die Petroleuminseln at the
Staatstheater in the former month, for which Weill wrote the music and Neher once more
provided sets. But the immediate effect of The Threepenny Opera’s success was to
establish the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm as the leading left-wing theatre of the moment
in Berlin. Retrospectively Brecht came to speak of it as ‘his’ theatre, and indeed to a great
extent he does seem to have dominated its entire opening season. For with The
Threepenny Opera temporarily transferred to another theatre (and Carola Neher at some
point assuming her original role as Polly), he took over the direction of Marieluise
Fleisser’s anti-militarist Bavarian farce Die Pioniere von Ingolstadt, a sequel to the play
which he had recommended to the Junge Bühne three years earlier. This opened on 31
March 1929 and featured an unknown actor whom Brecht had advised Aufricht to engage
on a three-year contract – Peter Lorre – along with Kurt Gerron and Lenya, the Brown and
Jenny from his own play. The farce itself was too outspoken for the police and the
military, and had to be bowdlerised, but it none the less ran for two months and broke
even; Aufricht later judged it the best of all the productions which he sponsored. Then The
Threepenny Opera returned for the rest of the season, and the problem of the next play had
to be faced.
Aufricht wanted another Brecht–Weill work on the same lines as before. It was
scheduled once more for 31 August; Engel and Neher were again booked, and a number
of the same actors already under contract. But the moment had passed, the first symptoms
of the imminent economic crisis were beginning to make themselves felt, the veneer of
political tolerance was wearing thin. Brecht had a seismographic feeling for such changes,
and he was already heading towards a much more didactic kind of theatre, in which he
briefly also managed to involve Weill. As a result Happy End, the Chicago comedy which
was supposed to follow up The Threepenny Opera’s success, never really stirred his
interest or drew the same inspired ideas from him as had Gay’s inherently much superior
original. Superficially the prospects might have seemed the same as before, with Elisabeth
Hauptmann providing the basic dialogue and Brecht writing a number of characteristic
songs, some of them eliciting first-rate settings from Weill. But whereas in 1928 Brecht
was willing to make many radical changes in the former, so that his stamp on the final
play is unmistakable, only a year later this was no longer the case. At some point during
the spring of 1929 he began writing his first Lehrstücke or didactic plays under the
twofold influence of the Japanese Noh drama and Hindemith’s concept of
Gemeinschaftsmusik – the educational implications of making music in common. Two
works for that summer’s Baden-Baden festival resulted. Almost at the same time his
hitherto uncommitted left-wing opinions crystallised as a consequence, it seems, of the
Berlin May Day demonstration at which the police killed thirty-one people. From then on
he was aligned with the German Communist Party, and if this led him to foist a more
‘provocative’ ending on Happy End it also helped further to alienate him from that play
without making it appear any better in the eyes of the party critics.
But, however Brecht himself might be changing at this time, The Threepenny Opera
was a play which he had no wish to discard. Obviously it was a very much better and
solider work than its successor, though the latter’s rehabilitation in the 1960s (which has
led it to be performed under Brecht’s name in both England and the U.S.) shows the
silliness of its text to be not quite the liability it once seemed. The major difference,
however, lay in the former work’s enormous success, which kept it running in different
parts of Germany until the Nazis took over and in other countries longer still. This did not
immediately tempt Brecht to tinker with the text of the play (as he continued to do with
Man equals Man), but when Warner Brothers and Tobis, acting through producers called
Nero-Film, contracted in May 1930 to make a film version he started looking at it with
changed – and changing – eyes. Though sound film was then in its infancy, the prospects
seemed good: G. W. Pabst was to be the director, Lania (of Piscator’s old collective) to
write the script; Carola Neher would play Polly, Lenya Jenny; while Brecht and Weill
were given a say respectively in the script and the music. Two parallel versions would be
made, one German and one French. That summer, accordingly, Brecht wrote Lania the
treatment called ‘Die Beule’, ‘The Bruise’, which in effect ignores all that had remained
of The Beggar’s Opera and uses the characters and the Victorian London setting to point a
radically changed moral. Everything now is on a larger scale – the gang is 120 strong,
Peachum heads a Begging Trust – and a higher social level, with peers, a general and a
magistrate at Macheath’s wedding in the ducal manège. The gang and the beggars this
time are engaged in a war whose symbol is the bruise inflicted by the former on a beggar
called Sam. Peachum accordingly uses the beggars to disfigure the smartly repainted slum
streets through which the Queen is to pass; he interviews Brown with seven lawyers
behind him, and secures Macheath’s arrest after a bucolic picnic and a chase in which a
car full of policemen pursues a car full of whores. There is no escape and no second
arrest. Under Polly’s direction the gang has simply taken over the National Deposit Bank
and converted itself into a group of solemn financiers. Both they and Mrs Peachum now
become uneasy about the dangers of unleashing the poor; while Brown has a terrible
dream, in which thousands of poor people emerge from under one of the Thames bridges
as a great flood, sweeping through the streets and public buildings. So the ‘mounted
Messengers’ this time are the bankers who arrive to bail Macheath out; and rather than
disappoint the crowds Peachum hands over Sam to be hanged instead. The social façades
are maintained as Macheath joins the reunited bourgeoisie awaiting the arrival of their
This scheme, on which Neher and the Bulgarian director Slatan Dudow also
collaborated, was plainly unwelcome to the producers, and the fact that Brecht only met
the agreed August deadline by communicating it to Lania orally did not improve matters.
Though Lania needed him to continue working the Nero firm chose to dismiss Brecht at
this stage, and brought in the Communist film critic Béla Balázs to help complete the
script. A law suit followed, which Brecht lost, and thereafter he had no words too bad for
Pabst’s film, which meanwhile went obstinately ahead, to be shown in Berlin on 19
February 1931. Though the long theoretical essay which Brecht thereafter wrote on the
‘Threepenny Lawsuit’, as he termed it, is an illuminating work, not least for its links with
the ideas of his new friend Walter Benjamin, the modern reader should not allow its
downright condemnation to put him off the film. For in fact not only did the latter capture
aspects of the original (for instance Carola Neher’s interpretation of Polly) that necessarily
elude any modern production, but it also incorporates a surprising proportion of Brecht’s
changes to the story. These, however, continued to itch Brecht, so that while leaving the
play itself as it had been in the 1928 production (with all its last-minute decisions and
improvisations) he was soon planning its further development in The Threepenny Novel,
his one substantial work of fiction, which he was to hand in to its Dutch publisher some
months after leaving Germany in 1933. Engel, when he came again to direct the play at
the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm for the Berliner Ensemble in 1960, after Brecht’s death,
wondered at first if he could not incorporate some of the ideas from ‘The Bruise’ and the
novel, but soon decided that they were too divergent from the play. Brecht for his part
wrote some topical versions of the songs (p. 85 ff.) for other directors in the immediate
post-war years, but it is not clear if and when they were used, and certainly he never made
them a permanent part of the text; indeed they hardly merit it. All the same, his
discussions in connection with Giorgio Strehler’s Milan production in the last year of his
life (p. 100) show that he regarded The Threepenny Opera as no inviolable museum piece.
For he envisaged a new framework, and welcomed Strehler’s updating of the story to the
era of the Keystone Cops.
Like Man equals Man, The Threepenny Opera presents a problem to earnest-minded
interpreters, since it is hard to reconcile its flippancies with Brecht’s status as a
Communist playwright, while its repeated successes in the commercial theatres of
bourgeois society – from Berlin of the 1920s to New York of the 1970s – take some
explaining away. The trouble here is not only that when Brecht actually wrote his share of
this play he was only beginning to explore Marxism and had barely begun to relate to the
class struggle (as the leading Communist Party critic Alfred Kemény pointed out), but that
the issue was subsequently confused by Brecht’s writing all his own notes and
interpretations after adopting a more committed position in 1929. His remarks moreover
are too easily taken out of context and at their face value: his insistence, for instance, that
the play is a critique of bourgeois society and not merely of the Lumpenproletariat was
only a retort – quite unsubstantiated – to that ill-disposed critic in the party’s daily Die
Rote Fahne who had accused him of the contrary, referred to him as ‘the Bohemian Bert
Brecht’ and dismissed the whole work as a money-spinner containing ‘Not a vestige of
modern social or political satire’. Just like Piscator’s productions of the previous season
The Threepenny Opera undoubtedly appealed to the fashionable Berlin public and
subsequently to the middle classes throughout Germany, and if it gave them an
increasingly cynical view of their own institutions it does not seem to have prompted
either them or any other section of society to try to change these for the better. The fact
was simply that ‘one has to have seen it’, as the elegant and cosmopolitan Count Kessler
noted in his diary after doing so with a party that included an ambassador and a director of
the Dresdner Bank.
Brecht himself had far too much affection for this work to admit the ineffectiveness of
its message, even after he had tacitly confirmed such accusations by going over to
austerer, explicitly didactic forms. Even years later he could still view it through
something of a pink cloud, as indicated by his wishful replies to Giorgio Strehler on p.
102. Yet the most favourable criticisms at the time were concerned less with its attack on
‘bourgeois morality’ and capitalist property rights as being based on theft than with its
establishment of a highly original new theatrical genre. Thus Herbert Ihering, who from
the first had been Brecht’s leading supporter among the Berlin critics, while welcoming
this ‘new form, open to every possibility, every kind of content’, pointed out that ‘this
content, however, has still to come’. Part of the common over-estimation of the play’s
social purpose and impact is due most probably to the intense dislike felt for it by the
German nationalist reaction which began gaining ground within a year of the première
and was soon to bring the Nazis their first great electoral successes. It was a time of
growing polarisation in German political and cultural life, and if the Berlin theatre
continued to move leftwards, dragging part of the cinema with it, there was now much
less hesitation on the part of the authorities and the great middlebrow public to voice their
dislike of anything ‘alien’ and ‘decadent’ in the arts. Not only was Weill a leading target
for such campaigns, largely on racialist grounds, but the brothel scene and the cynicism of
the songs were certainly enough to qualify Brecht too, whether or not he represented any
kind of serious threat. A great wave of irrational feeling was building up, and in so far as
it was directed against The Threepenny Opera its political aspects were quite deceptive.
Thus that shrewd observer Kurt Tucholsky could write in spring 1930 that the battle was a
sham one because the work itself was unrealistic. ‘This writer can be compared to a man
cooking soup on a burning house. It isn’t he who caused the fire.’
Yet if its political significance is often overrated today The Threepenny Opera remains
revolutionary in a less obvious but equally disturbing sense. For, like The Little
Mahagonny before it, it struck almost instinctively at the whole hierarchical order of the
arts, with opera on its Wagnerian pinnacle at the top, and reshuffled highbrow and
lowbrow elements to form a new kind of musical theatre which would upset every
accepted notion of what was socially and culturally proper. This was what the best critics
immediately recognised, Ihering writing that the success of The Threepenny Opera was of
immense importance:
A theatre that is not smart, not geared to ‘society’, has broken through to the audience.
Far more so the musicians; thus Klemperer included the wind suite from the music in his
concerts and is reported to have seen the 1928 production ten times, while Heinrich
Strobel compared it with The Soldier’s Tale as ‘showing the way’ and Theodor Adorno
judged it the most important event since Berg’s Wozzeck. In many ways the change of
values which it implied has proved harder for later societies to assimilate than have the
somewhat random gibes at business, religious hypocrisy, individual charity, romantic
marriage and the judicial system which make up the political content of the text.
Particularly when seen in conjunction with Brecht’s and Walter Benjamin’s current
thinking about the ‘apparatus’ of the arts, it suggested a complete cultural and sociological
re-evaluation which would alter all the existing categories, starting with those of opera and
operetta (for it was neither), as well as the corresponding techniques of acting, singing and
so forth. Today, though certainly poverty, slums, corrupt business practices and biassed
justice continue to exist in our most prosperous societies, we no longer feel that The
Threepenny Opera has anything all that acute to say about them. But the implications of
the new form for singers, musicians, voice teachers and above all for institutionalised
opera are still far from fully digested. And because Brecht and his friends did not yet
manage to capture the ‘apparatus’ of which they spoke this holds good for Communist as
well as for capitalist society.
In reading Brecht’s notes which we print it must be remembered that they were written
some two years after the première and only published in 1931. Important as they remain
for the development of his theory and practice of theatre, as a guide to the interpretation of
the play they tend to ignore the largely irresponsible lightheartedness with which the
collaborators originally set to work. Nor is there any material in our own account of the
text’s evolution for those directors who would like to sharpen its attack on capitalist
morality and institutions – by adding, for instance, episodes from Macheath’s subsequent
career as a banker in line with Brecht’s film treatment in ‘The Bruise’; for Brecht himself
wrote no such scene. The reallocation of Polly’s ‘Pirate Jenny’ song, too, to Jenny as in the
film (where it somewhat overloads the brothel episode), is nowhere suggested by Brecht,
though many directors have opted for it either to avoid the confusion of names or to build
up the whore’s part. What does emerge from the early scripts (of which nothing has yet
been published in Germany itself) is a number of excellent passages and episodes, some of
which could certainly help to clarify the story. The poisoning episode with Lucy in Act 3
is dispensable, though it came from Gay and inspired a splendid piece of musical parody
from Weill, now in the miniature score. But Peachum’s original conclusion to Act 2 is not
only funnier than the rather laboured ‘Semiramis’ speech of the final version; it also
explains the otherwise rather baffling start to Act 3. Similarly Lucy’s disclosure of her
father’s drunkenness (p. 116) makes his startling ineptitude at that point easier to accept.
All such passages, however, date from before 31 August 1928 and are in no sense
afterthoughts or amendments in the light of Brecht’s changing interpretations of his story,
characters and setting. Aside from the postwar versions of some of the songs (which were
not used in the Berliner Ensemble production) he left it as a play of that time.
Of course this is not going to stop directors and dramaturgs from making their own
attempts to bring it up to date or put it in some framework more intelligible to a particular
audience. But they must be clear that they do this on their own responsibility. They cannot
claim to be doing Brecht’s work for him and giving us the play ‘he would have written’
supposing he had been a few years older and a rather better Marxist. After all, he could
perfectly well have done this himself if he had wished. Instead he allowed it to remain as
it was: the occasional work of a thirty-year-old writer and a composer of twenty-eight.
Central as it was to his success in the theatre, it was not in the main line of his aims and
concerns either before and after. It was, and is, a brilliant but by no means flawless
The Threepenny Opera
after John Gay: The Beggar’s Opera
called Mac the Knife
his wife
his daughter
proprietor of the Beggar’s Friend Ltd
High Sheriff of London
his daughter
The Ballad of Mac the Knife
Fair in Soho.
The beggars are begging, the thieves are stealing, the whores are whoring. A ballad
singer sings a ballad.
See the shark with teeth like razors.
All can read his open face.
And Macheath has got a knife, but
Not in such an obvious place.
See the shark, how red his fins are
As he slashes at his prey.
Mac the Knife wears white kid gloves which
Give the minimum away.
By the Thames’s turbid waters
Men abruptly tumble down.
Is it plague or is it cholera?
Or a sign Macheath’s in town?
On a beautiful blue Sunday
See a corpse stretched in the Strand.
See a man dodge round the corner …
Mackie’s friends will understand.
And Schmul Meier, reported missing
Like so many wealthy men:
Mac the Knife acquired his cash box.
God alone knows how or when.
Peachum goes walking across the stage from left to right with his wife and daughter.
Jenny Towler turned up lately
With a knife stuck through her breast
While Macheath walks the Embankment
Nonchalantly unimpressed.
Where is Alfred Gleet the cabman?
Who can get that story clear?
All the world may know the answer
Just Macheath has no idea.
And the ghastly fire in Soho –
Seven children at a go –
In the crowd stands Mac the Knife, but he
Isn’t asked and doesn’t know.
And the child-bride in her nightie
Whose assailant’s still at large
Violated in her slumbers –
Mackie, how much did you charge?
Laughter among the whores. A man steps out from their midst and walks quickly away
across the square.
That was Mac the Knife!
To combat the increasing callousness of mankind, J. Peachum, a man of business, has
opened a shop where the poorest of the poor can acquire an exterior that will touch
the hardest of hearts.
Jonathan Jeremiah Peacham’s outfitting shop for beggars.
You ramshackle Christian, awake!
Get on with your sinful employment
Show what a good crook you could make.
The Lord will cut short your enjoyment.
Betray your own brother, you rogue
And sell your old woman, you rat.
You think the Lord God’s just a joke?
He’ll give you His Judgement on that.
to the audience: Something new is needed. My business is too hard, for my
business is arousing human sympathy. There are a few things that stir men’s souls, just
a few, but the trouble is that after repeated use they lose their effect. Because man has
the abominable gift of being able to deaden his feelings at will, so to speak. Suppose,
for instance, a man sees another man standing on the corner with a stump for an arm;
the first time he may be shocked enough to give him tenpence, but the second time it
will only be fivepence, and if he sees him a third time he’ll hand him over to the police
without batting an eyelash. It’s the same with the spiritual approach. A large sign
saying ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ is lowered from the grid. What good
are the most beautiful, the most poignant sayings, painted on the most enticing little
signs, when they get expended so quickly? The Bible has four or five sayings that stir
the heart; once a man has expended them, there’s nothing for it but starvation. Take this
one, for instance – ‘Give and it shall be given unto you’ – how threadbare it is after
hanging here a mere three weeks. Yes, you have to keep on offering something new. So
it’s back to the good old Bible again, but how long can it go on providing? Knocking.
Peachum opens. Enter a young man by the name of Filch.
Messrs Peachum & Co.?
Are you the proprietor of The Beggar’s Friend Ltd.? I’ve been sent to you. Fine
slogans you’ve got there! Money in the bank, those are. Got a whole library full of
them, I suppose? That’s what I call really something. What chance has a bloke like me
got to think up ideas like that; and how can business progress without education?
What’s your name?
It’s this way, Mr Peachum, I’ve been down on my luck since a boy. Mother drank,
father gambled. Left to my own resources at an early age, without a mother’s tender
hand, I sank deeper and deeper into the quicksands of the big city. I’ve never known a
father’s care or the blessings of a happy home. So now you see me …
So now I see you …
confused: … bereft of all support, a prey to my baser instincts.
Like a derelict on the high seas and so on. Now tell me, derelict, which district
have you been reciting that fairy story in?
What do you mean, Mr Peachum?
You deliver that speech in public, I take it?
Well, it’s this way, Mr Peachum, yesterday there was an unpleasant little incident in
Highland Street. There I am, standing on the corner quiet and miserable, holding out
my hat, no suspicion of anything nasty …
leafs through a notebook: Highland Street. Yes, yes, right. You’re the bastard
that Honey and Sam caught yesterday. You had the impudence to be molesting passersby in District 10. We let you off with a thrashing because we had reason to believe you
didn’t know what’s what. But if you show your face again it’ll be the chop for you. Got
Please, Mr Peachum, please. What can I do, Mr Peachum? The gentlemen beat me
black and blue and then they gave me your business card. If I took off my coat, you’d
think you were looking at a fish on a slab.
My friend, if you’re not flat as a kipper, then my men weren’t doing their job
properly. Along come these young whipper-snappers who think they’ve only got to
hold out their paw to land a steak. What would you say if someone started fishing the
best trout out of your pond?
It’s like this, Mr Peachum – I haven’t got a pond.
Licences are delivered to professionals only. Points in a businesslike way to a
map of the city. London is divided into fourteen districts. Any man who intends to
practise the craft of begging in any one of them needs a licence from Jonathan Jeremiah
Peachum & Co. Why, anybody could come along – a prey to his baser instincts.
Mr Peachum, only a few shillings stand between me and utter ruin. Something must
be done. With two shillings in my pocket I …
One pound.
Mr Peachum!
Points imploringly at a sign saying ‘Do not turn a deaf ear to misery!’ Peachum points
to the curtain over a showcase, on which is written: ‘Give and it shall be given unto
Ten bob.
Plus fifty per cent of your take, settle up once a week. With outfit seventy per
What does the outfit consist of?
That’s for the firm to decide.
Which district could I start in?
Baker Street. Numbers 2 to 104. That comes even cheaper. Only fifty per cent,
including the outfit.
Very well. He pays.
Your name?
Charles Filch.
Right. Shouts. Mrs Peachum! Mrs Peachum enters. This is Filch. Number 314.
Baker Street district. I’ll do his entry myself. Trust you to pick this moment to apply,
just before the Coronation, when for once in a lifetime there’s a chance of making a
little something. Outfit C. He opens a linen curtain before a showcase in which there
are five wax dummies.
What’s that?
Those are the five basic types of misery, those most likely to touch the human
heart. The sight of such types puts a man into the unnatural state where he is willing to
part with money. Outfit A: Victim of vehicular progress. The merry paraplegic, always
cheerful – He acts it out. – always carefree, emphasised by arm-stump. Outfit B: Victim
of the Higher Strategy. The Tiresome Trembler, molests passers-by, operates by
inspiring nausea – He acts it out. – attenuated by medals. Outfit C: Victim of advanced
Technology. The Pitiful Blind Man, the Cordon Bleu of Beggary.
He acts it out, staggering toward Filch. The moment he bumps into Filch, Filch cries
out in horror. Peachum stops at once, looks at him with amazement and suddenly roars.
He’s sorry for me! You’ll never be a beggar as long as you live! You’re only fit to be
begged from! Very well, outfit D! Celia, you’ve been drinking again. And now you
can’t see straight. Number 136 has complained about his outfit. How often do I have to
tell you that a gentleman doesn’t put on filthy clothes? The only thing about it that
could inspire pity was the stains and they should have been added by just ironing in
candle wax. Use your head! Have I got to do everything myself? To Filch: Take off
your clothes and put this on, but mind you, look after it!
What about my things?
Property of the firm. Outfit E: young man who has seen better days or, if you’d
rather, never thought it would come to this.
Oh, you use them again? Why can’t I do the better days act?
Because nobody can make his own suffering sound convincing, my boy. If you
have a bellyache and say so, people will simply be disgusted. Anyway, you’re not here
to ask questions but to put these things on.
Aren’t they rather dirty? After Peachum has given him a penetrating look. Excuse
me, sir, please excuse me.
Shake a leg, son, I’m not standing here holding your trousers till Christmas.
suddenly emphatic: But I’m not taking my shoes off! Absolutely not. I’d sooner
pack the whole thing in. They’re the only present my poor mother ever gave me, I may
have sunk pretty low, but never …
Stop drivelling. We all know your feet are dirty.
Where am I supposed to wash my feet? In midwinter?
Mrs Peachum leads him behind a screen, then she sits down on the left and starts
ironing candle wax into a suit.
Where’s your daughter?
Polly? Upstairs.
Has that man been here again? The one who’s always coming round when I’m
Don’t be so suspicious, Jonathan, there’s no finer gentleman. The Captain
takes a real interest in our Polly.
I see.
And if I’ve got half an eye in my head, Polly thinks he’s very nice too.
Celia, the way you chuck your daughter around anyone would think I was a
millionaire. Wanting to marry her off? The idea! Do you think this lousy business of
ours would survive a week if those ragamuffins our customers had nothing better than
our legs to look at? A husband! He’d have us in his clutches in three shakes! In his
clutches! Do you think your daughter can hold her tongue in bed any better than you?
A fine opinion of your daughter you have.
The worst. The very worst. A lump of sensuality, that’s what she is.
If so, she didn’t get it from you.
Marriage! I expect my daughter to be to me as bread to the hungry. He leafs in
the Book. It even says so in the Bible somewhere. Anyway marriage is disgusting. I’ll
teach her to get married.
Barbarian! What’s this gentleman’s name?
Jonathan, you’re just a barbarian.
They never call him anything but ‘the Captain’.
So you haven’t even asked him his name? Interesting.
You don’t suppose we’d ask for a birth certificate when such a
distinguished gentleman invites Polly and me to the Cuttlefish Hotel for a little hop.
Captain? Cuttlefish Hotel? Hm, hm, hm …
To the Cuttlefish Hotel for a little hop.
A gentleman who has always handled me and my daughter with kid gloves.
Kid gloves!
Honest, he always does wear gloves, white ones: white kid gloves.
I see. White gloves and a cane with an ivory handle and spats and patent-leather
shoes and a charismatic personality and a scar …
On his neck. Isn’t there anyone you don’t know?
Filch crawls out from behind the screen.
Mr Peachum, couldn’t you give me a few tips, I’ve always believed in having a
system and not just shooting off my mouth any old how.
A system!
He can be a half-wit. Come back this evening at six, we’ll teach you the
rudiments. Now piss off!
Thank you very much indeed, Mr Peachum. Many thanks. Goes out.
Fifty per cent! – And now I’ll tell you who this gentleman with the gloves is –
Mac the Knife! He runs up the stairs to Polly’s bedroom.
God in Heaven! Mac the Knife! Jesus! Gentle Jesus meek and mild – Polly!
Where’s Polly? Peachum comes down slowly.
Polly? Polly’s not come home. Her bed has not been slept in.
She’ll have gone to supper with that wool merchant. That’ll be it, Jonathan.
Let’s hope to God it is the wool merchant!
Mr and Mrs Peachum step before the curtain and sing. Song lighting: golden glow. The
organ is lit up. Three lamps are lowered from above on a pole, and the signs say:
No, they can’t
Bear to be at home all tucked up tight in bed.
It’s fun they want
You can bet they’ve got some fancy notions brewing up instead.
So that’s your Moon over Soho
That is your infernal ‘d’you feel my heart beating?’ line.
That’s the old ‘wherever you go I shall be with you, honey’
When you first fall in love and the moonbeams shine.
No, they can’t
See what’s good for them and set their mind on it.
It’s fun they want
So they end up on their arses in the shit.
Then where’s your Moon over Soho?
What’s come of your infernal ‘d’you feel my heart beating?’ bit?
Where’s the old ‘wherever you go I shall be with you, honey’?
When you’re no more in love, and you’re in the shit?
Deep in the heart of Soho the bandit Mac the Knife is celebrating his marriage to
Polly Peachum, the beggar king’s daughter.
Bare stable.
known as Matt of the Mint, holds out his revolver and searches the stable with a
lantern: Hey, hands up, anybody that’s here!
Macheath enters and makes a tour of inspection along the footlights.
Well, is there anybody?
Not a soul. Just the place for our wedding.
enters in wedding dress: But it’s a stable!
Sit on the feed-bin for the moment, Polly. To the audience: Today this stable will
witness my marriage to Miss Polly Peachum, who has followed me for love in order to
share my life with me.
All over London they’ll be saying this is the most daring job you’ve ever
pulled, Mac, enticing Mr Peachum’s only child from his home.
Who’s Mr Peachum?
He’ll tell you he’s the poorest man in London.
But you can’t be meaning to have our wedding here? Why, it is a common stable.
You can’t ask the vicar to a place like this. Besides, it isn’t even ours. We really
oughtn’t to start our new life with a burglary, Mac. Why, this is the biggest day of our
Dear child, everything shall be done as you wish. We can’t have you embarrassed in
any way. The trimmings will be here in a moment.
That’ll be the furniture.
Large vans are heard driving up. Half a dozen men come in, carrying carpets,
furniture, dishes, etc., with which they transform the stable into an exaggeratedly
luxurious room.1*
The gentlemen put their presents down left, congratulate the bride and report to the
known as Crook-fingered Jake: Congratulations! At 14 Ginger Street there were
some people on the second floor. We had to smoke them out.
known as Bob the Saw: Congratulations! A copper got done in the Strand.
We did all we could, but three people in the West End were past saving.
Amateurs and bunglers.
An old gent got hurt a bit, but I don’t think it’s anything serious. Congratulations.
My orders were: avoid bloodshed. It makes me sick to think of it. You’ll never make
business men! Cannibals, perhaps, but not business men!
known as Dreary Walt: Congratulations. Only half an hour ago, Madam, that
harpsichord belonged to the Duchess of Somerset.
What is this furniture anyway?
How do you like the furniture, Polly?
in tears: Those poor people, all for a few sticks of furniture.
And what furniture! Junk! You have a perfect right to be angry. A rosewood
harpsichord along with a renaissance sofa. That’s unforgivable. What about a table?
A table?
They lay some planks over the bins.
Oh, Mac, I’m so miserable! I only hope the vicar doesn’t come.
Of course he’ll come. We gave him exact directions.
introduces the table: A table!
seeing Polly in tears: My wife is very much upset. Where are the rest of the chairs? A
harpsichord and the happy couple has to sit on the floor! Use your heads! For once I’m
having a wedding, and how often does that happen? Shut up, Dreary! And how often
does it happen that I leave you to do something on your own? And when I do you start
by upsetting my wife.
Dear Polly …
knocks his hat off his head3: ‘Dear Polly’! I’ll bash your head through your kidneys
with your ‘dear Polly’, you squirt. Have you ever heard the like? ‘Dear Polly!’ I
suppose you’ve been to bed with her?
I swear …
Dear madam, if any items of furniture should be lacking, we’ll be only too glad to
go back and …
A rosewood harpsichord and no chairs. Laughs. Speaking as a bride, what do you
say to that?
Two chairs and a sofa and the bridal couple has to sit on the floor.
It could be worse.
Something new, I’d say.
sharply: Get the legs sawn off this harpsichord! Go on!
saw the legs off the harpsichord and sing:
Bill Lawgen and Mary Syer
Were made man and wife a week ago.
When it was over and they exchanged a kiss
He was thinking ‘Whose wedding dress was this?’
While his name was one thing she’d rather like to know.
The finished article, madam: there’s your bench.
May I now ask the gentlemen to take off those filthy rags and put on some decent
clothes? This isn’t just anybody’s wedding, you know. Polly, may I ask you to look
after the fodder?
Of course. Of course.
Is this our wedding feast? Was the whole lot stolen, Mac?
I wonder what you will do if there’s a knock at the door and the sheriff steps in.
I’ll show you what your husband will do in that situation.
It couldn’t happen today. The mounted police are all sure to be in Daventry.
They’ll be escorting the Queen back to town for Friday’s Coronation.
Two knives and fourteen forks! One knife per chair.
What incompetence! That’s the work of apprentices, not experienced men! Haven’t
you any sense of style? Fancy not knowing the difference between Chippendale and
Louis Quatorze.
The gang comes back. The gentlemen are now wearing fashionable evening dress, but
unfortunately their movements are not in keeping with it.
We only wanted to bring the most valuable stuff. Look at that wood! Really first
Ssst! Ssst! Permit us, Captain …
Polly, come here a minute.
Mac and Polly assume the pose of a couple prepared to receive congratulations.
Permit us, Captain, on the greatest day of your life, in the full bloom of your
career, or rather the turning point, to offer you our heartiest and at the same time most
sincere congratulations, etcetera. That posh talk don’t half make me sick. So to cut a
long story short – Shakes Mac’s hand. – keep up the good work, old mate.
Thank you, that was kind of you, Matthew.
shaking Polly’s hand after embracing Mac with emotion: It was spoken from the
heart, all right! So as I was saying, keep it up, old china, I mean – Grinning – the good
work of course.
Roars of laughter from the guests. Suddenly Mac with a deft movement sends Matthew
to the floor.
Shut your trap. Keep that filth for Kitty, she’s the kind of slut that appreciates it.
: Mac, don’t be so vulgar.
Here, I don’t like that. Calling Kitty a slut … Stands up with difficulty.
Oh, so you don’t like that?
And besides, I never use filthy language with her. I respect Kitty too much. But
maybe you wouldn’t understand that, the way you are. You’re a fine one to talk about
filth. Do you think Lucy didn’t tell me the things you’ve told her? Compared to that,
I’m driven snow.
Mac looks at him.
Cut it out, this is a wedding. They pull him away.
Fine wedding, isn’t it, Polly? Having to see trash like this around you on the day of
your marriage. You wouldn’t have thought your husband’s friends would let him down.
Think about it.
I think it’s nice.
Blarney. Nobody’s letting you down. What’s a difference of opinion between
friends? Kitty’s as good as the next girl. But now bring out your wedding present, mate.
Yes, hand it over!
offended: Here.
Oh, a wedding present. How kind of you, Mr Matt of the Mint. Look, Mac, what a
lovely nightgown.
Another bit of filth, eh, Captain?
Forget it. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings on this festive occasion.
What do you say to this? Chippendale!
He unveils an enormous Chippendale grandfather clock.
It’s wonderful. I’m so happy. Words fail me. You’re so unbelievably kind. Oh,
Mac, isn’t it a shame we’ve no flat to put it in?
Hm, it’s a start in the right direction. The great thing is to get started. Thank you
kindly, Walter. Go on, clear the stuff away now. Food!
while the others start setting the table: Trust me to come empty-handed again.
Intensely to Polly: Believe me, young lady, I find it most distressing.
It doesn’t matter in the least, Mr Crook-finger Jake.
Here are the boys flinging presents right and left, and me standing here like a fool.
What a situation to be in! It’s always the way with me. Situations! It’s enough to make
your hair stand on end. The other day I meet Low-Dive Jenny; well, I say, you old cow

Suddenly he sees Mac standing behind him and goes off without a word.
leads Polly to her place: This is the best food you’ll taste today, Polly. Gentlemen!
All sit down to the wedding feast.4
indicating the china: Beautiful dishes. Savoy Hotel.
The plover’s eggs are from Selfridge’s. There was supposed to be a bucket of foie
gras. But Jimmy ate it on the way, he was mad because it had a hole in it.
We don’t talk about holes in polite society.
Don’t bolt your eggs like that, Ned, not on a day like this.
Couldn’t somebody sing something? Something splendiferous?
choking with laughter: Something splendiferous? That’s a first-class word. He
sits down in embarrassment under Mac’s withering glance.
knocks a bowl out of someone’s hand: I didn’t mean us to start eating yet. Instead of
seeing you people wade straight into the trough, I would have liked something from the
heart. That’s what other people do on this sort of occasion.
What, for instance?
Am I supposed to think of everything myself? I’m not asking you to put on an opera.
But you might have arranged for something else besides stuffing your bellies and
making filthy jokes. Oh well, it’s a day like this that you find out who your friends are.
The salmon is marvellous, Mac.
I bet you’ve never eaten anything like it. You get that every day at Mac the Knife’s.
You’ve landed in the honey pot all right. That’s what I’ve always said: Mac is the right
match for a girl with a feeling for higher things. As I was saying to Lucy only
Lucy? Mac, who is Lucy?
embarrassed: Lucy? Oh, nothing serious, you know.
Matthew has risen; standing behind Polly, he is waving his arms to shut Jake up.
sees him: Do you want something? Salt perhaps …? What were you saying, Mr
Oh, nothing, nothing at all. The main thing I wanted to say really was nothing at all.
I’m always putting my foot in it.
What have you got in your hand, Jake?
A knife, Boss.
And what have you got on your plate?
A trout, Boss.
I see. And with the knife you are eating the trout, are you not? It’s incredible. Did
you ever see the like of it, Polly? Eating his fish with a knife! Anybody who does that is
just a plain swine, do you get me, Jake? Think about it. You’ll have your hands full,
Polly, trying to turn trash like this into a human being. Have you boys got the least idea
what that is?
A human being or a human pee-ing?
Really, Mr Walter!
So you won’t sing a song, something to brighten up the day? Has it got to be a
miserable gloomy day like any other? And come to think of it, is anybody guarding the
door? I suppose you want me to attend to that myself too? Do you want me on this day
of days to guard the door so you lot can stuff your bellies at my expense?
sullenly: What do you mean at your expense?
Stow it, Walter boy. I’m on my way. Who’s going to come here anyway? Goes out.
A fine joke on a day like this if all the wedding guests were pulled in.
rushes in: Hey, Captain. The cops!
Tiger Brown!
Nonsense, it’s the Reverend Kimball.
Kimball enters.
roar: Good evening, Reverend Kimball!
So I’ve found you after all. I find you in a lowly hut, a humble place but your
Property of the Duke of Devonshire.
Good evening, Reverend. Oh, I’m so glad that on the happiest day of our life you

And now I request a rousing song for the Reverend Kimball.
How about Bill Lawgen and Mary Syer?
Good. Bill Lawgen might be just the thing.
Be nice if you’d do a little number, boys.
Let’s have it, gentlemen.
Three men rise and sing hesitantly, weakly and uncertainly:
Bill Lawgen and Mary Syer
Were made man and wife a week ago
(Three cheers for the happy couple: hip, hip, hooray!)
When it was over and they exchanged a kiss
He was thinking ‘Whose wedding dress was this?’
While his name was one thing she’d rather like to know.
Do you know what your wife’s up to? No!
Do you like her sleeping round like that? No!
Three cheers for the happy couple: Hip, hip, hooray!
Billy Lawgen told me recently
Just one part of her will do for me.
The swine.
Is that all? Penurious!
chokes again: Penurious is the word, gentlemen.
Shut your trap!
Oh, I only meant no gusto, no fire, and so on.
Gentlemen, if none of you wishes to perform, I myself will sing a little song; it’s an
imitation of a girl I saw once in some twopenny-halfpenny dive in Soho. She was
washing the glasses, and everybody was laughing at her, and then she turned to the
guests and said things like the things I’m going to sing to you. Right. This is a little bar,
I want you to think of it as filthy. She stood behind it morning and night. This is the
bucket and this is the rag she washed the glasses with. Where you are sitting, the
customers were sitting laughing at her. You can laugh too, to make it exactly the same;
but if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. She starts pretending to wash glasses,
muttering to herself. Now, for instance, one of them – it might be you – Pointing at
Walter – says: Well, when’s your ship coming in, Jenny?
Well, when’s your ship coming in, Jenny?
And another says – you, for instance: Still washing up glasses, Jenny the pirate’s
Still washing up glasses, Jenny the pirate’s bride?
Good. And now I’ll begin.
Song lighting: golden glow. The organ is lit up. Three lamps are lowered from above on
a pole, and the signs say:
Now you gents all see I’ve the glasses to wash.
When a bed’s to be made I make it.
You may tip me with a penny, and I’ll thank you very well
And you see me dressed in tatters, and this tatty old hotel
And you never ask how long I’ll take it.
But one of these evenings there will be screams from the harbour
And they’ll ask: what can all that screaming be?
And they’ll see me smiling as I do the glasses
And they’ll say: how she can smile beats me.
And a ship with eight sails and
All its fifty guns loaded
Has tied up at the quay.
They say: get on, dry your glasses, my girl
And they tip me and don’t give a damn.
And their penny is accepted, and their bed will be made
(Although nobody is going to sleep there, I’m afraid)
And they still have no idea who I am.
But one of these evenings there will be explosions from the harbour,
And they’ll ask: what kind of a bang was that?
And they’ll see me as I stand beside the window
And they’ll say: what has she got to smile at?
And that ship with eight sails and
All its fifty guns loaded
Will lay siege to the town.
Then you gents, you aren’t going to find it a joke
For the walls will be knocked down flat
And in no time the town will be rased to the ground.
Just one tatty old hotel will be left standing safe and sound
And they’ll ask: did someone special live in that?
Then there’ll be a lot of people milling round the hotel
And they’ll ask: what made them let that place alone?
And they’ll see me as I leave the door next morning
And they’ll say: don’t tell us she’s the one.
And that ship with eight sails and
All its fifty guns loaded
Will run up its flag.
And a hundred men will land in the bright midday sun
Each stepping where the shadows fall.
They’ll look inside each doorway and grab anyone they see
And put him in irons and then bring him to me
And they’ll ask: which of these should we kill?
In that noonday heat there’ll be a hush round the harbour
As they ask which has got to die.
And you’ll hear me as I softly answer: the lot!
And as the first head rolls I’ll say: hoppla!
And that ship with eight sails and
All its fifty guns loaded
Will vanish with me.
Very nice. Cute, eh? The way the missus puts it across!
What do you mean nice? It’s not nice, you idiot! It’s art, it’s not nice. You did that
marvellously, Polly. But it’s wasted on trash like this, if you’ll excuse me, your
Reverence. In an undertone to Polly: Anyway, I don’t like you playacting; let’s not
have any more of it.
Laughter at the table. The gang is making fun of the parson. What you got in your
hand, your Reverence?
Two knives, Captain.
What you got on your plate, your Reverence?
Salmon, I think.
And with that knife you are eating the salmon, are you not?
Did you ever see the like of it, eating fish with a knife? Anybody who does that
is just a plain …
Swine. Do you understand me, Jake? Think about it.
rushing in: Hey, Captain, coppers. The sheriff in person.
Brown. Tiger Brown!
Yes, Tiger Brown, exactly. It’s Tiger Brown himself, the Chief Sheriff of London,
pillar of the Old Bailey, who will now enter Captain Macheath’s humble abode. Think
about it.
The bandits creep away.
It’ll be the drop for us!
Brown enters.
Hullo, Jackie.
Hullo, Mac! I haven’t much time, got to be leaving in a minute. Does it have to be
somebody else’s stable? Why, this is breaking and entering again!
But Jackie, it’s such a good address. I’m glad you could come to old Mac’s wedding.
Let me introduce my wife, née Peachum. Polly, this is Tiger Brown, what do you say,
old man? Slaps him on the back. And these are my friends, Jackie, I imagine you’ve
seen them all before.
pained: I’m here unofficially, Mac.
So are they. He calls them. They come in with their hands up. Hey, Jake.
Hey, Jimmy; hey, Bob; hey, Walter!
Well, just for today I’ll turn a blind eye.
Hey, Ned; hey, Matthew.
That’s Crook-fingered Jake. He’s a dirty dog.
Be seated, gentlemen, be seated.
Thank you, sir.
I’m delighted to meet my old friend Mac’s charming wife.
Don’t mention it, sir.
Sit down, you old bugger, and pitch into the whisky! – Polly and gentlemen! You
have today in your midst a man whom the king’s inscrutable wisdom has placed high
above his fellow men and who has none the less remained my friend throughout the
storms and perils, and so on. You know who I mean, and you too know who I mean,
Brown. Ah, Jackie, do you remember how we served in India together, soldiers both of
us? Ah, Jackie, let’s sing the Cannon Song right now.
They sit down on the table.
Song lighting: golden glow. The organ is lit up. Three lamps are lowered from above on
a pole, and the signs say:
John was all present and Jim was all there
And Georgie was up for promotion.
Not that the army gave a bugger who they were
When confronting some heathen commotion.
The troops live under
The cannon’s thunder
From the Cape to Cooch Behar.
Moving from place to place
When they come face to face
With a different breed of fellow
Whose skin is black or yellow
They quick as winking chop him into beefsteak tartare.
Johnny found his whisky too warm
And Jim found the weather too balmy
But Georgie took them both by the arm
And said: never let down the army.
The troops live under
The cannon’s thunder
From the Cape to Cooch Behar.
Moving from place to place
When they come face to face
With a different breed of fellow
Whose skin is black or yellow
They quick as winking chop him into beefsteak tartare.
John is a write-off and Jimmy is dead
And they shot poor old Georgie for looting
But young men’s blood goes on being red
And the army goes on recruiting.
The troops live under
The cannon’s thunder
From the Cape to Cooch Behar.
Moving from place to place
When they come face to face
With a different breed of fellow
Whose skin is black or yellow
They quick as winking chop him into beefsteak tartare.
Though life with its raging torrent has carried us boyhood friends far apart, although
our professional interests are very different, some people would go so far as to say
diametrically opposed, our friendship has come through unimpaired. Think about it.
Castor and Pollux, Hector and Andromache, etcetera. Seldom have I, the humble
bandit, well, you know what I mean, made even the smallest haul without giving him,
my friend, a share, a substantial share, Brown, as a gift and token of my unswerving
loyalty, and seldom has he, take that knife out of your mouth, Jake, the all-powerful
police chief, staged a raid without sending me, his boyhood friend, a little tip-off. Well,
and so on and so forth, it’s all a matter of give and take. Think about it. He takes Brown
by the arm. Well, Jackie, old man, I’m glad you’ve come, I call that real friendship.
Pause, because Brown has been looking sadly at a carpet. Genuine Shiraz.
From the Oriental Carpet Company.
Yes, we never go anywhere else. Do you know, Jackie, I had to have you here today,
I hope it’s not awkward for you in your position?
You know, Mac, that I can’t refuse you anything. I must be going, I’ve really got
so much on my plate; if the slightest thing should go wrong at the Queen’s Coronation

See here, Jackie, my father-in-law is a revolting old bastard. If he tries to make
trouble for me, is there anything on record against me at Scotland Yard?
I knew it.
There’s nothing whatsoever on record against you at Scotland Yard.
I’ve taken care of that. Good night.
Aren’t you fellows going to stand up?
to Polly: Best of luck. Goes out accompanied by Mac.
who along with Matthew and Walter has meanwhile been conferring with Polly: I
must admit I couldn’t repress a certain alarm a while ago when I heard Tiger Brown
was coming.
You see, dear lady, we have contacts in the highest places.
Yes, Mac always has some iron in the fire that the rest of us don’t even suspect.
But we have our own little iron in the fire. Gentlemen, it’s half-past nine.
And now comes the pièce de resistance.
All go upstage behind the carpet that conceals something. Mac enters.
I say, what’s going on?
Hey, Captain, another little surprise.
Behind the curtain they sing the Bill Lawgen song softly and with much feeling. But at
‘his name was one thing she’d rather like to know’ Matthew pulls down the carpet and
all go on with the song, bellowing and pounding on the bed that has been disclosed.
Thank you, friends, thank you.
And now we shall quietly take our leave.
The gang go out.
And now the time has come for softer sentiments. Without them man is a mere beast
of burden. Sit down, Polly.
Look at the moon over Soho.
I feel it, beloved.
I see it, dearest. Feel my heart beating, my beloved.
Where’er you go I shall be with you.
And where you stay, there too shall I be.
And though we’ve no paper to say we’re wed
And no altar covered with flowers
And nobody knows for whom your dress was made
And even the ring is not ours –
The platter off which you’ve been eating your bread
Give it one brief look; fling it far.
For love will endure or not endure
Regardless of where we are.
To Peachum, conscious of the hardness of the world, the loss of his daughter means
utter ruin.
Peachum’s Outfitting Emporium for Beggars.
To the right Peachum and Mrs Peachum. In the doorway stands Polly in her coat and hat,
holding her travelling bag.
Married? First you rig her fore and aft in dresses and hats and gloves and
parasols, and when she’s cost as much as a sailing ship, she throws herself in the
garbage like a rotten pickle. Are you really married?
Song lighting: golden glow. The organ is lit up. Three lamps are lowered from above on
a pole and the signs say:
I once used to think, in my innocent youth
(And I once was as innocent as you)
That someone someday might come my way
And then how should I know what’s best to do?
And if he’d got money
And seemed a nice chap
And his workday shirts were white as snow
And if he knew how to treat a girl with due respect
I’d have to tell him: No.
That’s where you must keep your head screwed on
And insist on going slow.
Sure, the moon will shine throughout the night
Sure, the boat is on the river, tied up tight.
That’s as far as things can go.
Oh, you can’t lie back, you must stay cold at heart
Oh, you must not let your feelings show.
Oh, whenever you feel it might start
Ah, then your only answer’s: No.
The first one that came was a man of Kent
And all that a man ought to be.
The second one owned three ships down at Wapping
And the third was crazy about me.
And as they’d got money
And all seemed nice chaps
And their workday shirts were white as snow
And as they knew how to treat a girl with due respect
Each time I told them: No.
That’s where I still kept my head screwed on
And I chose to take it slow.
Sure, the moon could shine throughout the night
Sure, the boat was on the river, tied up tight
That’s as far as things could go.
Oh, you can’t lie back, you must stay cold at heart
Oh, you must not let your feelings show.
Oh, whenever you feel it might start
Ah, then your only answer’s: No.
But then one day, and that day was blue
Came someone who didn’t ask at all
And he went and hung his hat on the nail in my little attic
And what happened I can’t quite recall.
And as he’d got no money
And was not a nice chap
And his Sunday shirts, even, were not like snow
And as he’d no idea of treating a girl with due respect
I could not tell him: No.
That’s the time my head was not screwed on
And to hell with going slow.
Oh, the moon was shining clear and bright
Oh, the boat kept drifting downstream all that night
That was how it simply had to go.
Yes, you must lie back, you can’t stay cold at heart
In the end you have to let your feelings show.
Oh, the moment you know it must start
Ah, then’s no time for saying: No.
So she’s associating with criminals. That’s lovely. That’s delightful.
If you’re immoral enough to get married, did it have to be a horse-thief and
a highwayman? That’ll cost you dear one of these days! I ought to have seen it coming.
Even as a child she had a swollen head like the Queen of England.
So she’s really got married!
Yes, yesterday, at five in the afternoon.
To a notorious criminal. Come to think of it, it shows that the fellow is really
audacious. If I give away my daughter, the sole prop of my old age, why, my house will
cave in and my last dog will run off. I’d think twice about giving away the dirt under
my fingernails, it would mean risking starvation. If the three of us can get through the
winter on one log of wood, maybe we’ll live to see the new year. Maybe.
What got into you? This is our reward for all we’ve done, Jonathan. I’m
going mad. My head is swimming. I’m going to faint. Oh! She faints. A glass of Cordial
You see what you’ve done to your mother. Quick! Associating with criminals,
that’s lovely, that’s delightful! Interesting how the poor woman takes it to heart. Polly
brings in a bottle of Cordial Médoc. That’s the only consolation your poor mother has
Go ahead, give her two glasses. My mother can take twice as much when she’s not
quite herself. That will put her back on her feet. During the whole scene she looks very
wakes up: Oh, there she goes again, pretending to be so loving and
Five men enter.5
I’m making a complaint, see, this thing is a mess, it’s not a proper stump, it’s a
botch-up, and I’m not wasting my money on it.
What do you expect? It’s as good a stump as any other; it’s just that you don’t
keep it clean.
Then why don’t I take as much money as the others? Naw, you can’t do that to
me. Throws down the stump. If I wanted crap like this, I could cut off my real leg.
What do you fellows want anyway? Is it my fault if people have hearts of flint?
I can’t make you five stumps. In five minutes I can turn any man into such a pitiful
wreck it would make a dog weep to see him. Is it my fault if people don’t weep? Here’s
another stump for you if one’s not enough. But look after your equipment!
This one will do.
tries a false limb on another: Leather is no good, Celia; rubber is more
repulsive. To the third: That swelling is going down and it’s your last. Now we’ll have
to start all over again. Examining the fourth: Of course natural scabies is never as good
as the artificial kind. To the fifth: You’re a sight! You’ve been eating again. I’ll have to
make an example of you.
Mr Peachum, I really haven’t eaten anything much. I’m just abnormally fat, I
can’t help it.
Nor can I. You’re fired. Again to the second beggar: My dear man, there’s an
obvious difference between ‘tugging at people’s heart strings’ and ‘getting on people’s
nerves’. Yes, artists, that’s what I need. Only an artist can tug at anybody’s heart strings
nowadays. If you fellows performed properly, your audience would be forced to
applaud. You just haven’t any ideas! Obviously I can’t extend your engagement.
The beggars go out.
Look. Is he particularly handsome? No. But he makes a living. He can support me.
He is not only a first-class burglar but a far-sighted and experienced stick-up man as
well. I’ve been into it, I can tell you the exact amount of his savings to date. A few
successful ventures and we shall be able to retire to a little house in the country just like
that Mr Shakespeare father admires so much.
It’s quite simple. You’re married. What does a girl do when she’s married? Use
your head. Well, she gets divorced, see. Is that so hard to figure out?
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
But I love him. How can I think of divorce?
Really, have you no shame?
Mother, if you’ve ever been in love …
In love! Those damn books you’ve been reading have turned your head.
Why, Polly, everybody’s doing it.
Then I’m an exception.
Then I’m going to tan your behind, you exception.
Oh yes, all mothers do that, but it doesn’t help because love goes deeper than a
tanned behind.
I won’t let my love be taken away from me.
Don’t strain my patience.
One more word out of you and you’ll get a clip on the ear.
But love is the finest thing in the world.
Anyway, he’s got several women, the blackguard. When he’s hanged, like
as not half a dozen widows will turn up, each of them like as not with a brat in her
arms. Oh, Jonathan!
Hanged, what made you think of that, that’s a good idea. Run along, Polly.
Polly goes out. Quite right. That’ll earn us forty pounds.
I see. Report him to the sheriff.
Naturally. And besides, that way we get him hanged free of charge … Two
birds with one stone. Only we’ve got to find out where he’s holed up.
I can tell you that, my dear, he’s holed up with his tarts.
But they won’t turn him in.
Just let me attend to that. Money rules the world. I’ll go to Turnbridge right
away and talk to the girls. Give us a couple of hours, and after that if he meets a single
one of them he’s done for.
has been listening behind the door: Dear Mama, you can spare yourself the trip.
Mac will go to the Old Bailey of his own accord sooner than meet any of those ladies.
And even if he did go to the Old Bailey, the sheriff would serve him a cocktail; they’d
smoke their cigars and have a little chat about a certain shop in this street where a little
more goes on than meets the eye. Because, Papa dear, the sheriff was very cheerful at
my wedding.
What’s this sheriff called?
He’s called Brown. But you probably know him as Tiger Brown. Because everyone
who has reason to fear him calls him Tiger Brown. But my husband, you see, calls him
Jackie. Because to him he’s just dear old Jackie. They’re boyhood friends.
Oh, so they’re friends, are they? The sheriff and Public Enemy No. 1, ha, they
must be the only friends in this city.
poetically: Every time they drank a cocktail together, they stroked each other’s
cheeks and said: ‘If you’ll have the same again, I’ll have the same again.’ And every
time one of them left the room, the other’s eyes grew moist and he said: ‘Where’er you
go I shall be with you.’ There’s nothing on record against Mac at Scotland Yard.
I see. Between Tuesday evening and Thursday morning Mr Macheath, a
gentleman who has assuredly been married many times, lured my daughter from her
home on pretext of marriage. Before the week is out, he will be taken to the gallows on
that account, and deservedly so. ‘Mr Macheath, you once had white kid gloves, a cane
with an ivory handle, and a scar on your neck, and frequented the Cuttlefish Hotel. All
that is left is your scar, undoubtedly the least valuable of your distinguishing marks, and
today you frequent nothing but prison cells, and within the foreseeable future no place
at all …’
Oh, Jonathan, you’ll never bring it off. Why, he’s Mac the Knife, whom
they call the biggest criminal in London. He takes what he pleases.
Who’s Mac the Knife? Get ready, we’re going to see the Sheriff of London.
And you’re going to Turnbridge.
To see his whores.
For the villainy of the world is great, and a man needs to run his legs off to keep
them from being stolen from under him.
I, Papa, shall be delighted to shake hands with Mr Brown again.
All three step forward and sing the first finale. Song lighting. On the signs is written:
Am I reaching for the sky?
All I’m asking from this place is
To enjoy a man’s embraces.
Is that aiming much too high?
with a Bible in his hand:
Man has a right, in this our brief existence
To call some fleeting happiness his own
Partake of worldly pleasures and subsistence
And have bread on his table rather than a stone.
Such are the basic rights of man’s existence.
But do we know of anything suggesting
That when a thing’s a right one gets it? No!
To get one’s rights would be most interesting
But our condition’s such it can’t be so.
How I want what’s best for you
How I’d teach you airs and graces
Show you things and take you places
As a mother likes to do.
Let’s practise goodness: who would disagree?
Let’s give our wealth away: is that not right?
Once all are good His Kingdom is at hand
Where blissfully we’ll bask in His pure light.
Let’s practise goodness: who would disagree?
But sadly on this planet while we’re waiting
The means are meagre and the morals low.
To get one’s record straight would be elating
But our condition’s such it can’t be so.
So that is all there is to it.
The world is poor, and man’s a shit.
Of course that’s all there is to it.
The world is poor, and man’s a shit.
Who wouldn’t like an earthly paradise?
Yet our condition’s such it can’t arise.
Out of the question in our case.
Let’s say your brother’s close to you
But if there’s not enough for two
He’ll kick you smartly in the face.
You think that loyalty’s no disgrace?
But say your wife is close to you
And finds she’s barely making do
She’ll kick you smartly in the face.
And gratitude: that’s no disgrace
But say your son is close to you
And finds your pension’s not come through
He’ll kick you smartly in the face.
And so will all the human race.
That’s what you’re all ignoring
That’s what’s so bloody boring.
The world is poor, and man’s a shit
And that is all there is to it.
Of course that’s all there is to it
The world is poor, and man’s a shit.
We should aim high instead of low
But our condition’s such this can’t be so.
Which means He has us in a trap:
The whole damn thing’s a load of crap.
The world is poor, and man’s a shit
And that is all there is to it.
That’s what you’re all ignoring
That’s what’s so bloody boring.
That’s why He’s got us in a trap
And why it’s all a load of crap.
Thursday afternoon: Mac the Knife takes leave of his wife and flees from his father-in-law
to the heaths of Highgate.
The stable.
enters: Mac! Mac, don’t be frightened.
lying on the bed: Well, what’s up? Polly, you look a wreck.
I’ve been to see Brown, my father went too, they decided to pull you in; my father
made some terrible threats and Brown stood up for you, but then he weakened, and now
he thinks too that you’d better stir yourself and make yourself scarce for a while, Mac.
You must pack right away.
Pack? Nonsense. Come here, Polly. You and I have got better things to do than pack.
No, we mustn’t now. I’m so frightened. All they talked about was hanging.
I don’t like it when you’re moody, Polly. There’s nothing on record against me at
Scotland Yard.
Perhaps there wasn’t yesterday, but suddenly today there’s an awful lot. You – I’ve
brought the charges with me, I don’t even know if I can get them straight, the list goes
on so. You’ve killed two shopkeepers, more than thirty burglaries, twenty-three holdups, and God knows how many acts of arson, attempted murder, forgery and perjury, all
within eighteen months. You’re a dreadful man. And in Winchester you seduced two
sisters under the age of consent.
They told me they were over twenty. What did Brown say?
He stands up slowly and goes whistling to the right along the footlights.
He caught up with me in the corridor and said there was nothing he could do for
you now. Oh, Mac! She throws herself on his neck.
All right, if I’ve got to go away, you’ll have to run the business.
Don’t talk about business now, Mac, I can’t bear it. Kiss your poor Polly again and
swear that you’ll never never be …
Mac interrupts her brusquely and leads her to the table where he pushes her down in a
Here are the ledgers. Listen carefully. This is a list of the personnel. Reads. Hm, first
of all, Crook-finger Jake, a year and a half in the business. Let’s see what he’s brought
in. One, two, three, four, five gold watches, not much, but clean work. Don’t sit on my
lap, I’m not in the mood right now. Here’s Dreary Walter, an unreliable sod. Sells stuff
on the side. Give him three weeks, grace, then get rid of him. Just turn him in to Brown.
sobbing: Just turn him in to Brown.
Jimmy II, cheeky bastard; good worker but cheeky. Swipes bed sheets right out from
under ladies of the best society. Give him a rise.
I’ll give him a rise.
Robert the Saw: small potatoes, not a glimmer of genius. Won’t end on the gallows,
but he won’t leave any estate either.
Won’t leave any estate either.
In all other respects you will carry on exactly the same as before. Get up at seven,
wash, have your weekly bath and so on.
You’re perfectly right, I’ll have to grit my teeth and look after the business. What’s
yours is mine now, isn’t it, Mackie? What about your chambers, Mac? Should I let them
go? I don’t like having to pay the rent.
No, I still need them.
What for, it’s just a waste of our money!
Oh, so you think I won’t be coming back at all, do you?
What do you mean? You can rent other rooms. Mac … Mac, I can’t go on. I keep
looking at your lips and then I don’t hear what you say. Will you be faithful to me,
Of course I’ll be faithful, I’ll do as I’m done by. Do you think I don’t love you? It’s
only that I see farther ahead than you.
I’m so grateful to you, Mac. Worrying about me when they’re after you like
bloodhounds …
Hearing the word ‘bloodhounds’ he goes stiff, stands up, goes to the right, throws off
his coat and washes his hands.
hastily: You will go on sending the profits to Jack Poole’s banking house in
Manchester. Between ourselves it’s only a matter of weeks before I go over to banking
altogether. It’s safer and it’s more profitable. In two weeks at the most the money will
have to be taken out of this business, then off you go to Brown and give the list to the
police. Within four weeks all that human scum will be safely in the cells at the Old
Why, Mac! How can you look them in the eye when you’ve written them off and
they’re as good as hanged? How can you shake hands with them?
With who? Robert the Saw, Matt of the Mint, Crook-fingered Jake? Those gaolbirds?
Enter the gang.
Gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to see you.
Good evening, gentlemen.
I’ve got hold of the Coronation programme, Captain. It looks to me like we’re
going to be very busy in the next few days. The Archbishop of Canterbury is arriving in
half an hour.
Yes, you’d better be shoving off.
Five thirty. We’d better be shoving off, Captain.
What do you mean: you?
For my part, I’m afraid I’m obliged to take a little trip.
Good God, are they out to nab you?
It would be just now, with the Coronation coming up! A Coronation without
you is like porridge without a spoon.
Shut your trap! In view of that, I am temporarily handing over the management of
the business to my wife.
He pushes her forward and goes to the rear where he observes her.
Well, boys, I think the Captain can go away with an easy mind. We’ll swing this
job, you bet. What do you say, boys?
It’s no business of mine. But at a time like this I’m not so sure that a woman …
I’m not saying anything against you, Ma’am.
from upstage: What do you say to that, Polly?
You shit, that’s a fine way to start in. Screaming. Of course you’re not saying
anything against me! If you were, these gentlemen would have ripped your pants off
long ago and tanned your arse for you. Wouldn’t you, gentlemen? Brief pause, then all
clap like mad.
Yes, there’s something in that, you can take her word for it.
Hurrah, the missus knows how to lay it on! Hurrah for Polly!
Hurrah for Polly!
The rotten part of it is that I won’t be here for the Coronation. There’s a gilt-edged
deal for you. In the day time nobody’s home and at night the toffs are all drunk. That
reminds me, you drink too much, Matthew. Last week you suggested it was you set the
Greenwich Children’s Hospital on fire. If such a thing occurs again, you’re out. Who
set the Children’s Hospital on fire?
I did.
to the others: Who set it on fire?
You, Mr Macheath.
So who did it?
sulkily: You, Mr Macheath. At this rate our sort will never rise in the world.
with a gesture of stringing up: You’ll rise all right if you think you can compete with
me. Who ever heard of one of those professors at Oxford College letting some assistant
put his name to his mistakes? He puts his own.
Ma’am, while your husband is away, you’re the boss. We settle up every
Thursday, ma’am.
Every Thursday, boys.
The gang goes out.
And now farewell, my heart. Look after your complexion, and don’t forget to make
up every day, exactly as if I were here. That’s very important, Polly.
And you, Mac, promise me you won’t look at another woman and that you’ll leave
town right away. Believe me, it’s not jealousy that makes your little Polly say that; no,
it’s very important, Mac.
Oh, Polly, why should I go round drinking up the empties? I love only you. As soon
as the twilight is deep enough I’ll take my black stallion from somebody’s stable and
before you can see the moon from your window, I’ll be the other side of Highgate
Oh, Mac, don’t tear the heart out of my body. Stay with me and let us be happy.
But I must tear my own heart out of my body, for I must go away and no one knows
when I shall return.
It’s been such a short time, Mac.
Does it have to be the end?
Oh, last night I had a dream. I was looking out the window and I heard laughter in
the street, and when I looked out I saw our moon and the moon was all thin like a worndown penny. Don’t forget me, Mac, in strange cities.
Of course I won’t forget you, Polly. Kiss me, Polly.
Goodbye, Mac.
Goodbye, Polly. On his way out:
For love will endure or not endure
Regardless of where we are.
alone: He never will come back. She sings:
Nice while it lasted, and now it is over
Tear out your heart, and goodbye to your lover!
What’s the use of grieving, when the mother that bore you
(Mary, pity women!) knew it all before you?
The bells start ringing.
Into this London the Queen now makes her way.
Where shall we be on Coronation Day?
Mrs Peachum and Low-Dive Jenny step out before the curtain.
So if you see Mac the Knife in the next few days, run to the nearest
constable and turn him in; it’ll earn you ten shillings.
Shall we see him, though, if the constables are after him? If the hunt is on, he
won’t go spending his time with us.
Take it from me, Jenny, even with all London at his heels, Macheath is not
the man to give up his habits. She sings:
There goes a man who’s won his spurs in battle
The butcher, he. And all the others, cattle.
The cocky sod! No decent place lets him in.
Who does him down, that’s done the lot? The women.
Want it or not, he can’t ignore that call.
Sexual obsession has him in its thrall.
He doesn’t read the Bible. He sniggers at the law
Sets out to be an utter egoist
And knows a woman’s skirts are what he must resist
So when a woman calls he locks his door.
So far, so good, but what’s the future brewing?
As soon as night falls he’ll be up and doing.
Thus many a man watched men die in confusion:
A mighty genius, stuck on prostitu…
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