Study Guide

The Threepenny Opera Plot Analysis

By Bertolt Brecht

Plot Analysis

Exposition (Initial Situation)

Lock Up Your Daughters

We meet the main characters and learn that Polly Peachum has disappeared with a mysterious stranger known as Mac the Knife. This sets up the main conflict between her dad, Mr. Peachum, and her new husband, Macheath. 

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

A Lovely Wedding

Polly and Mac marry in a secret ceremony, and Peachum decides that he'll get Mac thrown into jail for all of his unpunished crimes. Things are rough for Mac, who has to go into hiding in order to avoid prison.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

In the Slammer

Mac ends up in jail, escapes, then is betrayed once again and sent back to be executed. He's headed to the gallows after all of his friends have forsaken him, and it looks like, for once, there's no way out for Mac the Knife.

Falling Action

Off With His Head

At the last minute, a horseman comes to pardon Mac and set him up with a really cushy life. It's totally unexpected and changes everything the play seems to be leading up to. Rather than see an execution, the audience is jarred by the silliness of the turn of events.

Resolution (Denouement)

All's Well That Ends Well?

The characters moan a bit about how in real life things don't work out so nicely, but they're lucky to be in an opera instead of in real life. Mac is rich and everyone else is still poor and complaining about it.