Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.
The Threepenny Opera: Introduction
The Threepenny Opera: Plot Summary
The Threepenny Opera: Detailed Summary & Analysis
The Threepenny Opera: Themes
The Threepenny Opera: Quotes
The Threepenny Opera: Characters
The Threepenny Opera: Symbols
The Threepenny Opera: Theme Wheel
Brief Biography of Bertolt Brecht
Historical Context of The Threepenny Opera
Other Books Related to The Threepenny Opera
- Full Title: The Threepenny Opera (German: Die Dreigroschenoper)
- When Written: 1927-1928
- Where Written: Berlin
- Literary Period: Epic theater
- Genre: Drama
- Setting: London, circa 1800s
- Climax: Macheath is freed from the gallows at the last minute through a decree from the newly-crowned Queen of England
- Antagonist: Mr. Peachum
Extra Credit for The Threepenny Opera
A New Standard. Kurt Weill composed “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer,” or “The Ballad of Mack the Knife,” at the very last minute, just days before the show’s 1928 premiere, after the actor playing Macheath grew angry that his character did not have a theme, demanded one. The song, which opens and closes the opera, has now become a beloved standard widely known as “Mack the Knife” after a 1954 translation of the song with catchy lyrics made waves stateside. Bobby Darin, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, and Ella Fitzgerald are just a few of the stars who recorded the song throughout the 1950s and ‘60s and made it the popular jazz standard it is today—many aren’t even aware of its origins.
Beg, Borrow, Steal. Innovative theatrical mind though he was, Bertolt Brecht was not the originator of the idea to transform John Gay’s 18th-century work The Beggar’s Opera into a modern-day, German-language play. In 1927, Elisabeth Hauptmann—a German writer and, at the time, Brecht’s lover—began translating Gay’s opera herself. When a wealthy producer, Ernst Josef Aufricht, rejected one of Brecht’s ideas for a new commission for the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, Brecht quickly claimed he had another idea—and stated that he himself had been working on a translation of The Beggar’s Opera. Aufricht loved the idea, and Brecht presented his lover’s work to the producer—as his own.