The Threepenny Opera – Bertolt Brecht. (Part 1)

Book: The Threepenny Opera (Die Dreigroschenoper)  – Bertolt Brecht with Elisabeth Hauptmann and Kurt Weill. Translation by Ralph Manheim and John Willett.
Status: Read.

Everyone knows the song ‘Mack the Knife’ – but have you read the play/musical comedy it came from? I wasn’t even that much of a fan of the song. Now I can’t get it out of my bloody head.

Synopsis: Mac(k) the Knife (Macheath, originally ‘Mackie Messer’) is the most infamous criminal in the whole of London town. He marries Polly Peachum, the daughter of Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum: a man with just a few more scruples than the notorious Mackie. Peachum and his wife Celia clothe and train a network of beggars and earn a percentage of every donation their beggars manage to receive from the not-always-sympathetic public. When Peachum hears of his daughter’s marriage he becomes determined to catch Mac and send him to the gallows.

It has to be done, right? No mention of The Threepenny Opera is complete without a quotation from The Ballad of Mac the Knife.

“See the shark with teeth like razors.
All can read this 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, the beggar’s friend, with a beggar.

FILCH: 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.
PEACHUM: My friend, if you’re not flat as a kipper, then my men were not 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?
FILCH: It’s like this, Mr. Peachum  – I haven’t got a pond.

Peachum and his wife Celia

PEACHUM: 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?
MRS. PEACHUM: A fine opinion of your daughter you have.
PEACHUM: The worst. The very worst. A lump of sensuality, that’s what she is.
MRS.PEACHUM: If so, she didn’t get it from you.

Mac’s gang are celebrating his wedding to Polly Peachum by filling a broken-into home with stolen furniture.

BOB: Congratulations! A copper got done in the Strand.
MAC: Amateurs.
NED: We did all we could, but three people in the West End were past saving. Congratulations!
MAC: Amateurs and bunglers.
JIMMY: An old gent got hurt a bit, but I don’t think it’s anything serious. Congratulations.
MAC: 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!
WALTER: Congratulations. Only have an hour ago, Madam, that harpsichord belonged to the Duchess of Somerset.
POLLY: What is this furniture, anyway?
MAC: How Do you like the furniture, Polly?
POLLY in tears: Those poor people, all for a few sticks of furniture.
MAC: And what furniture! Junk! You have a perfect right to be angry. A rosewood harpsichord along with a renaissance sofa. That’s unforgiveable. (..)

Translation copyright for all the plays and texts by Brecht ©1979 by Stefan S. Brecht

Bertolt Brecht: Collected Plays: Two on Amazon Marketplace
The Threepenny Opera at Waterstones:


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