At the conclusion of “The Threepenny Opera” Mac is saved. Tiger Brown rides up on a horse and announces that all is well, and with the Queen’s blessings nonetheless. Mac will not be hanged, and we are left to wonder just what his future dealings will entail. After such a grand public gesture, we can only imagine that Mac’s power will be greater than before. In a sense, this day has become his coronation; and all thanks to Brecht’s deus ex machina.
In early Greek drama this very device entailed the intervention of a deity, in order to resolve or cast judgment on a situation. While in the plays of Euripides and Aeschylus (for example) this device was a device and nothing more. At the time of their presentation, people still championed and feared the power of their deities. It was the people’s explanation for natural events—all which they didn’t understand. Though, in the case of “Threepenny” there is very little mention of ‘God’. The characters in this play are secular, and it is through the Mac’s stay of execution, and Brecht’s literally labeled deus ex machina that we are given a chance to further examine the true intention of this Opera: to properly characterize bourgeois and the prevalence of injustice which exists among ‘civilized people’.
This argument may seem lose, but let’s consider the elements of the last act. In the beginning, Mac is free and the peasant revolution is all but ready to happen. This is followed by Peachum’s amendment that he must once again go into custody. As this is set into action, and he is indeed once more incarcerated, we are given an indication that all hope is lost. The evil man will indeed be punished. His many friends can’t help him, and he is a lost cause. I.E.- the threat of a revolution has proven too much. Though, as the act progresses, forgiveness is asked, lust is somewhat rationalized—albeit from varied prospective—, and standing threats are re-examined. For most of this act, Brown stands as a powerless figurehead, much as the Queen herself, and the analytical observer can infer that this was not a mistake. A fine example of this would be Brown’s seemingly defeated admission that he must wear his official uniform on the day of the Coronation.
Act III is by no means lacking in humor. It’s themes however are amplified through the dialogue and songs. Moreover, from the third finale of deus ex machina we are given a clear example of what Brecht set out to achieve. It is a farce in which the bestial acts we’ve already heard so much about are repaid with exoneration. In the end the worst of the worst (the capitalists) prevail; the beggars return to begging; and the upset wives still have questions. It is a mirror of the upper echelon which reveals an untold ugliness, now told. It is no wonder why Brecht considered the jovial reception of this play as a smudge on the reputation of his oeuvre.