Juno and the Paycock Study Guide and Summary

Juno and the Paycock

An Introduction

The writer of Juno and the Paycock, Sean O’Casey was born in 1818 and died in 1964. So it makes him a contemporary of T. S. Eliot. The play has been written on the background of Irish Civil War, which has been going for centuries. There are many faction involved in the play

(i) There are the free staters,
(ii) There are also those who demand have ruled Ireland within the authority of English parliament
(iii) There are the unionists, who want unity with min Ireland.

Main Ireland got independence after the 1st World War. Ireland is divided into Southern and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is now called Ulster. The people of main Ireland are Roman Catholic. The majority of Ulster is Anglican. So there is political and religious problem.

(i)Either to unite with main Ireland
(ii)To unite with England
(iii)To be total independent was the main problem or enigma.

In 1916, there was a great uprising and many people were killed. O’Casey felt sorry for them. O’Casey was basically a pacifist (peaceful). He looks for independence but not at the cost of peace and life. This approach is also like that of W. B. Yeats. Both feel sorry for human causalities. To both, war is an evil, fought under any pretext, (excuse). Reality is more important than ideology. Man is more important than patriotism and religious fanaticism. O’Casey is down to earth a realist. He is similar to Shaw and is strongly anti-war writer. He is an anti-war, anti-class, anti-patriotism, anti-fanaticism, anti-trade unionism, anti-dogmatism, anti-ideology and anti-false aristocracy. He is a feministic writer.

O’Casey has taken the characters of “Juno and the Paycock” from Greek mythology. One very important aspect of European literature is their interest in classical mythology. O’Neill wrote “Electra”, Shaw wrote “Pygmalion”, Yeats wrote about “Byzantium”, Ibsen has created his own myth “Wild Duck” influenced by Greek mythology.

The European writers want to write on contemporary themes. They want to write on mundane level, but now modern themes are trivial. As in this play, though the domestic problems do not have heroic dimensions. Therefore, modern writers refer to classical myths to give a colour of sublimity to their subject. The other reason is that due to contemporary chaos communications have become difficult because there is no share of feelings. Therefore, modern writers seek for some focal point which would be equally meaningful to various people. So, when we talk with reference to the myths of Oedipus, Hamlet, Pygmalion, Byzantium, Electra, the communication becomes easy. In a disintegrated society, myths provide a focus and a centrifugal face. Some writers create their own myths as in the Later Romantic period and in Early Modern period. As Shelley creates the myth of “West Wind”, Keats creates the myth of “Hyperion and Psyche”. Ibsen makes the myth of “Wild Duck” and then O’Casey also uses Greek mythology in the play “Juno and the Paycock”.

Juno is the goddess of household in Greek mythology. She has been presented on riding a chariot driven by peacocks. Juno’s husband was Jove, Jupiter or Zeus, the president of Olympian gods, but here he stands for Paycock i.e. showy and vain. He was the master of the world and he looked after the world but here Juno’s husband Captain Boyle is a very irresponsible and an idle person. This is O’Casey’s art of caricature. On the other hand, Juno is called “Juno” because she was born in June, married in June and begot a child in June.

Juno’s husband, Captain Boyle, has aristocratic airs about him. He hates manual work. He enjoys the company of courtiers like companion and of some sycophant who adores him in flattery and always praises him. Captain Boyle represents the old aristocracy of Ireland which is now in the bas state because of the political upheaval in Ireland. Many English and Scottish interpretive have come to settle in Ireland. They now control the economy of Ireland. Therefore, the real Irish aristocracy hates them. This hatred is primarily for the reason that they are foreign exploiter and the second reason is that they lack Irish culture. Thirdly, they are destroying the culture and the civilization of Ireland. Therefore, they start to hate them and do not want to work under their control.

People like Captain Boyle think that if they work under them, they will be promoting the interest of the foreign exploiters. That’s why they degenerate even more. In the play Boyle’s family consists of four persons; Captain Boyle, Juno Boyle, their son “Johnny” and their daughter “Mary”. The son has been crippled in the war. The daughter works in a factory and the factory workers are on strike. She is very much active in trade union. Therefore, now she is jobless. Se has been deceived by her companion and has become pregnant. Boyle also does not work. Thus, the whole burden is on Juno. Juno runs the house. She also symbolizes “Juno” the goddess of household. She is a conventional wife. She has an interesting relationship with her husband. Since she is the earning hand of the family, she dominates and scolds her husband but as a good wife, she also considers her husband as a lord and wishes to serve him. All this creates a very interesting situation. In a way this is a feministic play that Juno struggles handedly to serve her family. She suffers most of all. So, women are weakest of the weak and exploited of the exploits. One very great feature of the play is the realistic depiction of the slump life in Dublin.

Technically, the play is considered one of the most effective plays in English literature. Handling of the myth and contemporary themes is matchless. This has heightened the tragic effects and made trivial family story a great tragedy. The play is very humorous and very tragic at same time. O’Casey is the master of creating humour in tragedy and tragedy in humour. In this art, he is very close to Shakespeare.

Juno and the Paycock: Tragoi-comedy


Tragi-comedy is a kind of writing in which comedy is hovering on the brinks of tragedy. O’Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock” is a tragi-comedy although, on the whole, it is a serious and somber play having much destruction and violence. But there are a number of comic elements in the play which would not fit into the pattern of a tragedy. On the other hand, as the comic elements do not outweigh the tragic ones, it would be inappropriate to label the play as a comedy. It means there is a co-existence in the play of tragic and comic elements and so, the best course is to treat it as a tragi-comedy.

The play starts with a graphic description of Boyle’s household. The setting reflects the poverty of the dwellers. Then the news of murder of Robbie Tancred is also very gloomy. Johnny’s neurotic condition adds to the tension of the play. But suddenly the mood of the play changes when Captain Boyle and Joxer Daly come in. The description of Mr. Boyle and Joxer’s physiognomy creates laughter. They are in fact grotesques. Mr. Boyle’s neck is short and his head looks like a stone ball on top of a gatepost. He carries himself with the upper part of his body slightly thrust forward. His walk is a slow consequential thrust.

We again burst into laughter when we see Juno hiding herself to catch Joxer and Captain Boyle as they make themselves at home. Joxer’s repetition of the words “a darling man, a darling man”, “a darling thing, a darling thing”; his attempt to escape from the situation at the sight of Juno; Mr. Boyle’s pretension that he is searching for a job sincerely, are all funny indeed. When jerry Devine enters, the situation becomes more ludicrous. Mr. Boyle is not willing to accept the job opportunity brought by Jerry. His lame excuses produce nothing but laughter.

“Won’t it be a climbin’ job? How d’ye expect me to be able to go up a ladder with these legs? An’, if I get up a self, how am I goin’ to get down agen?”

We are also much amused when Captain Boyle is interrupted while singing first by sewing machine man’s entry and then by the thundering knocks at the door. And when Boyle invites Joxer to a cup of tea Joxer says:

“I’m afraid the missus ud pop in on us agen before we’d know where we are, somethin’s tellin’ me to go at wanst.”

And to this Boyle replies:

“Don’t be superstitious, man; we’re Dublin men, ……”

We are also greatly amused when we find Joxer Daly and Mr. Boyle discussing about books and history. But their mock-intellectual discussion is interrupted by the voice of a coal vender. Again we burst into laughter when Joxer flies out of the window at learning the voice of Juno.

In fact, this whole episode is very humorous and funny. But in this fun and ludicrous description there is a tinge of pathos as well. For example, at one place, Juno says to Boyle:

“Here, sit down an’ take your breakfast – it may be the last you’ll get, for I don’t know where the next is going to come from.”

Then when there is knocking at the door and Boyle asks Joxer to tuck this head out of the window and see who is there, Joxer replies:

“An, mebbe get a bullet in the kisser?”

Apparently, this remark may be funny but underneath there is a grim tragedy in it … the tragedy of Ireland destroyed and wasted by civil war. Boyle’s remark that:

“… the clergy always had too much power over the people in this unfortunate country.”

This again shows the grim situation of Ireland. Thus here we have an intermingling of light and serious elements of a mixture of comedy and pathos.

In act II, too, we have much laughter. For example the changed attitude of Boyle at the prospect of false will, the singing of Juno and Mary, Mrs. Madigan and especially Joxer and Mr. Boyle are amusingly funny. In fact this whole episode is a merry comedy, although on the background we can also perceive the tensions of the funeral.

In act III, where there are much sufferings and destruction even then we find some comic situation there. Joxer’s behaviour at the downfall of Mr. Boyle is very funny. He instigates Nugent, the tailor, to get his suit away from Mr. Boyle. He also stoles away a bottle of brandy from the table and Boyle’s indignation at the moment creates laughter.

Actually, on the whole, farce in the play, is verbal – the repartee, the comic catchphrases, the cumulative comedy of repetition. There is the comedy of dialect and mispronunciation; of pompous phrases misused; of ludicrous images. Inflation and deflation both are comic. Captain Boyle’s inflation of his fantasies with invention, exaggeration, rhetoric and bombastic and Juno’ facility in knocking him down etc all are comic.

But, despite, so much laughter and comedy, the play is predominantly tragic in theme. For example, the ignorance that prompts Joxer’s and Captain Boyle’s mistake makes us laugh at first but is fundamentally tragic; their idleness, drunkenness and deviousness give numerous opportunities for comedy, but are in themselves wasteful and destructive. Tenement life gives rise to farcical situations but is in reality grim. Thus the superficialities of certain circumstances of Dublin life make an audience laugh, whereas, these are tragic if examined in full e.g. heroes become cowards, nationalism becomes jingoism, labour, humanitarianism becomes inhumanity. These are the tragedies of the play, which are mingled with comedy.

The pith and marrow of all this discussion is that, comedy is here, in fact, hovering on the brink of tragedy and so we are apt and just when we call “Juno and the Paycock” a tragi-comedy.

Juno and the Paycock: A Feministic Play

Like Ibsen and Shaw, Sean O’Casey is also a feminist playwright. His play “End of the Beginning”, “The Shadow of the Gunman” and “Juno and the Paycock” are the three extreme examples of feminism. The reason of his feministic approach is O’Casey’s great admiration for his mother. He led a very miserable life with is mother in slums. His mother nursed him in very poor circumstances. In return he loved her mother very much. Many of his heroines have glimpses of his mother and they are based on the personality of his mother while facing the adversity. O’Casey advocates that we have to give an equal status to women to progress in the modern world.

Like other plays of O’Casey “Juno and the Paycock” also projects the theme of feminism that traditionally man flatters woman. In this play Mary and Juno are flattered and dragged down by their circumstances caused by the men. Both worked hard to make both ends meet. While men are irresponsible, careless, coward and drunkard, they are not at all ready to pick up any responsibility or to do any betterment for the sake of home rather they are becoming the case of degeneracy for the home and are adding fuel to the fire.

Captain Boyle, the husband of Juno, is a drunkard, careless, irresponsible and a man of straw, having no conscience at all. He has never worked in his life and his only business is to peacock about the clubs and pubs with his friend Joxer Daly. They together boast of nationalism but they never bother about their homes. Captain Boyle is a typical aristocratic figure who does not care about his wife and children. Whenever Juno instigates him and laments him to do work at least for his own sake, he always makes lame excuses and complaints about pain in his legs – the legs with which he can wander round the day.

“Won’t it be a climbin’ job? How d’ye expect me to be able to go up a ladder with these legs? An’, if I get up a self, how am I goin’ to get down agen?”

Men in O’Casey world are impotent and dreamers. They are not realist rather escapist and scared while women are very much realistic and disillusioned. Johnny and Mr. Boyle think that one day Ireland must be free and the days of prosperity will come but women characters, now in the worst circumstance caused by war, suffers most of all in the time of calamity. They have to see … their husband … and sons killed and slaughtered and their lovers burned down. When Robbie Tancred is murdered, it is Mrs. Tancred who suffers behind him. The words of Mrs. Tancred’s lamentation on the death of her son always hurts Juno and she already prays for the life of Johnny.

“Blessed Virgin, … … Sacred Heart o’ Jesus, take away our hearts o’ stone, an’ give us hearts of flesh!”

Juno has to suffer on different grounds. She has a husband who keeps on strutting about from morning till night whereas she has to carry the burden to her whole family. Her son Johnny has lost an arm and has a hip shattered in the war. The daughter, who has turned rebel and is on strike, ultimately gives birth to a child by a schoolteacher, her fiancée. Amid the hell of circumstances Juno has to bear the sufferings of existence, but unlike Captain Boyle, she does not romanticize her son’s exploitation when Johnny drags on his sacrifice for Ireland by saying that he would sacrifice his other arm too because “a principle’s a principle”. Juno speaks bitterly:

“Ah, you lost your best principle, my boy, when you lost your arm:”

Thus O’Casey very beautifully portrays the high status of woman that woman are more realist in their approach to life in general and to war in particular. Here we see, though Juno is an uneducated woman, yet she holds her dignity and shatters the web of idealism attached to war and trade unionism. When Mary emphasizes that “a principle’s a principle” and tries to justify her call on strike, Juno remarks very realistically:

“When the employers sacrifice wan victim, the Trades Unions go wan betther be sacrificin’ a hundred.”

In the country like Ireland which is poverty stricken and war ridden one cannot afford any idealism. Rather the poor have to have the practical approach and must work hard in order to survive and break down the barriers of slavery. We see only Juno is conscious of this fact, when she ask Mary, what will the shopkeeper say when she says to him “a principle’s a principle”.

Juno is very conscious of the fact that the miseries of the Irish people are not because of their stars but they are because of their carelessness, misdeeds, romanticism and idealism. That’s why she asks Mary:

“Ah, what can God do agen the’ stupidity o’ men!”

In the play we see that Mary’s suffering are also caused by men. She rejects Jerry Devin because she realizes the fact that Jerry is not a type of man who will stand by her through thick and thin. She realizes Charley Banthem but he deceives her and leaves her desolate and pregnant. Boyle’s so called questions of honour awaken only on this movement and he frightens Juno of dangerous consequences if Mary does not leave the house. But in all these circumstances it is only Juno who stands besides her. This shows O’Casey feminine independence.

All these leads us to conclude that women in “Juno and the Pacycock” are realist and wiser than men. They have the awareness of life which men lack. This assumption of O’Casey is not based on lie or any idealism. In fact O’Casey wants to stress and evoke women to follow their instinctive feminine good sense and to play their part in the domain of modern life.


Juno and the Paycock: Jingois

Sean O’Casey was born in 1818 and died in 1964. So it makes him a contemporary of T. S. Eliot. The play has been written on the background of Irish Civil War, which has been going for centuries. There are many faction involved in the play

(i) There are the free staters,
(ii) There are also those who demand have ruled Ireland within the authority of English parliament
(iii) There are the unionists, who want unity with min Ireland.

Main Ireland got independence after the First World War Ireland is divided into Southern and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is now called Ulster. The people of main Ireland are Roman Catholic. The majority of Ulster is Anglican. So there is political and religious problem.

(i)Either to unite with main Ireland
(ii)To unite with England
(iii)To be total independent was the main problem or enigma.

“Juno and the Paycock” also has, like O’Casey’s other plays, war at its background. O’Casey is very much against the war fought under any pretext. He closely observed how war affects the society and the individuals, how war crushes the economy and the system, how war disintegrates the family structure, how it demolishes the psychology of the people and how it creates generation gap. Thus O’Casey condemns the exploitation of man-by-man, man’s inhuman treatment towards man, man’s barbarity against man.

The play begins with Mary’s reading a newspaper. The very first information we get form the play is of a gruesome murder.

“On a little bye-road, out beyant Finglas, he was found.”

O’Casey evidently has sympathies for the poverty stricken and war ridden Irish society. There is nothing predicable in Ireland. Everyone is in extreme danger. They are hanging between life and death.

There are lots of references in the play regarding Ireland‘s religious and political history. Irish makes many attempts to shake off the foreign yoke. Foreigners are very inhuman to them. In 1916, hundred of casualties and the execution of the leaders are faultless examples of that.

But this inhumanity is not just caused by foreigners. The real problem arises with the killing of Irishman by Irishman. War, or to be more exact, a civil war has no solution to man’s problem; rather it aggravates the miseries of victims. The civil war is not confined to two fractions rather it expands to the whole Ireland. The death of Robbie Tancred and Johnny Boyle are perfect examples of that.

Johnny, who has lost an arm and has a hip shattered in a fight, is at the end dragged away and shot by his former republican commanders because he betrayed comrade Tancred. All this shows that Ireland is preying on herself. Earlier Johnny had undoubtedly behaved heroically but the hellish civil war compelled him to betray his comrade. This means the stupid civil war is turning into traitors because of its nothingness and hollownesspurposelessness.

Juno emerges as a great humanist and realist. She is a true pacifist and is against man’s inhumanity against man. She has an acute observation and knows about the truth of things. She is very realist and anti-idealist. When Mary emphasizes that one ought to stand by one’s principle being “a principle’s a principle” and tries to justify her call of strike, Juno very realistically remarks:


“When the employers sacrifice wan victim, the Trades Unions go wan betther be sacrificin’ a hundred.”

Being a realist, she has a firm belief in the idea that the fault does not lie with the stars but with the people themselves. She says:

“Ah, what can God do agen the’ stupidity o’ men!”

The opportunist class represented by Nugent has also been condemned. According to O’Casey this opportunist class is more harmful than even the combatants. They themselves become the cause of civil war and play a double role. Nugent wants other to respect “Irish people national regard for the dead” but stitches suits for the civil guards at night.

The domestic tragedy, which mainly springs out form pregnancy, is due to the inhumanity of the male. That male chauvinist society cannot tolerate a mistake by a young girl. Whereas on the other hand the idiots like captain Boyle and Joxer Daly are left unaccountable.

Hope for a good time is only due to the courage of women. They are very humane and cooperative. O’Casey’s criticism of life is conveyed through the repetition of significance of deep dialogues. The words of Mrs. Tancred lamentation are pungently recorded by Juno, when she too, is mourning over a slain son.

“Sacred Heart of the Crucified Jesus, take away our hearts o’ stone……..an’ give us
hearts o’ flesh! ……..Take away this murdherin’ hate … an’ give us Thine own eternal love!”

Against the vanity and moral bankruptcy of masculine character, O’Casey elevates the mother figure when Juno plans to work for Mary and her unborn child. Juno suffers the pain of existence but she sustains life.

Thus, we see O’Casey very beautifully depicts man’s inhumanity towards man. O’Casey is at heart a humanist and a pacifist. He considers life mere inevitable and all idealism is subservient to it. He condemns all principles and gives one and the only principle to live all the days of life peacefully.


Plot Summary

The play is set in the Dublin slums or tenements in the years of the Iris Civil War 1922 and 1923. The whole play centers on the Boyle family. Juno Boyle is married to Boyle who calls himself Captain Boyle. Boyle is a useless and irresponsible drunkard who shuns the reality of work at every stage in the play, and spends his time in the pub drinking with his friend Joxer Daly.

The Boyles have two children Johnny and Mary. Johnny is a sickly individual who has been involved in the Republican movement but he ended up betraying a comrade by the name of Tancred. Johnny spends his days locked up in the house fearful of his life.

His mother Juno is a selfless character who is concerned all the time about other people. Juno’s daughter Mary is deeply concerned about appearances. She is a shallow character who seems to judge people and things from the outside. When we meet her at the beginning of the play, we learn she is on strike because of the dismissal of a young girl called Jenny Claffey. Yet we are told from Juno how Mary never had a good word to say about Jenny Claffey in her whole life.

The family are told that they will inherit money from a distant relative who has died. Bentham is the solicitor who informs them of this fact. He begins to have a relationship with Mary and she becomes pregnant. Bentham shortly after this abandons her. The Boyles begin to borrow money and accumulate a great deal of debts.

The legacy never materializes, and the Boyles are forced to return the borrowed goods. Johnny is dragged off to be shot for the betrayal of Tancred. Juno finally realizes that Boyle will never take on his responsibilities as father and breadwinner and so she leaves him and sets up home with Mary.



This theme dominates the play at every level. The whole play highlights the cruel irony that while many people were fighting for ideals and principles there were others who were suffering from the debilitating effects of the poverty. Because of the negative effects generated by poverty escapism assumes a major and dramatic element in the lives of characters. Mary’s tragic situation occurs because of poverty. When it becomes clear that the Boyles will not inherit any legacy, Bentham disappears forever abandoning Mary alone to have her baby.

Jerry Devine standards of what are essential features in a husband are set out in terms of money. At one stage he tells Mary how the job is worth 3 50
Juno who is the only character rooted in the harsh practical everyday world of necessity realizes that money, hard work, and responsible social commitment are stronger and more realistic values in this world than principles and ideals. Her pragmatic stance on how principles won’t pay butchers is in striking contrast to the incessant evasion from reality inherent in all of the other characters.


The theme of Religion is also a dominant feature in the play. The play is set against a strong Catholic background. O Casey makes frequent use of images of Our Lady and the votive light to project an air of realism and authenticity in the play. There are also a variety of different religions, and attitudes expressed throughout the play. One of O Casey’s chief mottos in the play seems to show the co-existence of strong religious convictions, together with a sincere and humane commitment to one’s fellowman.

Juno’s faith is sincere, authentic, and traditional. She believes on Johnny’s death that God can do nothing against the stupidity of men, that her husband should be praying novenas for a job, and that what Ireland needs is more piety. On the other hand, Bentham espouses a religion by the name of Theosophy. This is projected as vague and abstract and certainly seems to be compatible with his own shallow commitment to people.

Reality and Fantasy

The play dramatizes the conflict between the dream world and the world of reality and shows what happens when a character is stripped of his illusions and forced to face reality. Boyle the ‘poseur’ or Paycock struts throughout the world of the play on a false and imaginary sense of his own self- importance. His whole life and career consist in fabricating dreams of his gallant years as a captain fighting heroic feats and sailing the oceans of the world. The news of the legacy provides another outlet to Boyle’s habitual evasion of reality, he sees himself as a potential investor on the Stock Exchange. His whole life is a lie. His pains, which are invented for the sake of shirking and avoiding work, become real to him. His refuses to face up to the truth and reality about Bentham and the deception surrounding the news of the will. When reality invades at the conclusion of the play in the form of Mary’s pregnancy and the actual removal of his material possessions, Boyle is unable to cope. His final entrance dramatized in a drunken fragmentary soliloquy is tragic. His habitual escape into fantasy is pathetically expressed through his drunken pose – ‘ Commandant Kelly died….in them arms…..Tell me Volunteer Bullies says he that I died for Ireland’.

Mary who represents the younger generation also falls victim to illusion. On her first appearance in the play, she is shown to be on strike for a principle. The oppressive and stifling atmosphere generated by the tenement life forces her to seek escape through Bentham. For her he represents another way of life and values outside the restricting and debilitating atmosphere within the two-roomed tenement.

She falls victim to the subtle deception of Bentham’ middle-class gentility. She is blinded by external appearances and ends up a tragic victim of Bentham’s hypocrisy and selfishness At the conclusion of the play, she is forced to return to the reality of the slum life with Juno in spite of all her attempts to escape through learning and books.

Juno and the Paycock
Juno and the Paycock. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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