(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Abbey Theatre production of Juno and the Paycock had its premiere less than a year after the successful staging of The Shadow of a Gunman, on March 3, 1924. The production consolidated O’Casey’s reputation as the leading dramatist to emerge in the immediate aftermath of Irish independence. Juno and the Paycock, however, is far superior to the earlier work in terms of its scope, its ambition, and its tragic impact. Yet the play’s opening sequence may strike the reader as a continuation of The Shadow of a Gunman.

The time is two years later, and the historical context is the Irish Civil War, which followed the attainment of Irish independence in 1921. Johnny Boyle initially opposed Irish independence on the terms agreed to with England. He was unable to maintain this position, however, and this led to his betrayal of Robbie Tancred, his former comrade. The fact that Tancred was also a close neighbor brings home graphically the murderous intimacy of the Civil War. Yet it also sets the stage for the bitter domestic strife that consumes the Boyle family. Public and private experience are reflected in each other, as they are in The Shadow of a Gunman, though in a much more elaborate and assured manner.

Not only is Johnny’s situation a public version of his family’s inner conflicts; it is also reflected in what happens to his sister, Mary. At the beginning of the play, she also is presented as a person of principle. Yet she is unable to uphold her beliefs. The consequences of this failure are not as severe as they are in Johnny’s case. At the same time, it is her affair with Bentham that brings about the final rift in the family, a rift that the end of the play does not suggest can be healed. When, at the end, Captain Boyle drunkenly intones that the blinds are down, he is...

(The entire section is 756 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Waiting for Captain Boyle to come in from his morning visit to the pub, Mary Boyle and her mother, Juno, discuss the newspaper account of the murder of Robbie Tancred, a fanatic Irish Republican. Johnny Boyle, who was shot in the hip and lost an arm fighting against the Free State, leaves the living room after denouncing the two women for their morbid insensitivity. Juno scolds Mary for participating in the Trades Union Strike, especially at a time when the family is in debt for food, but Mary defends her activities, and her brother’s as well, as matters of principle.

When Jerry Devine rushes in with a message from Father Farrell, who found a job for Boyle, Juno sends Jerry to look for her husband at his favorite bar. Soon afterward she hears her husband and his crony, Joxer Daly, singing on the stairs. She hides behind the bed curtains so as to catch them talking about her. Disclosing herself, she frightens Joxer away and berates her husband for his laziness and malingering. Jerry returns and delivers his message to Boyle, who immediately develops a case of stabbing pains in his legs. Juno, not deceived, orders him to change into his working clothes. She then leaves for her own job.

Jerry accosts Mary, complains of her unfriendliness, and once again proposes to her. Although Jerry offers her love and security, Mary refuses him, and both leave in a huff.

Ignoring his wife’s instructions to apply for the job, Boyle, leisurely proceeding to get his breakfast, is rejoined by Joxer. Absorbed in their talk, they refuse to acknowledge a loud knocking at the street door, though the continuance of it seems to upset Johnny. Their rambling discourse on family life, the clergy, literature, and the sea is interrupted by Juno and Mary, who returned with Charlie Bentham, a schoolteacher and amateur lawyer, to announce that a cousin bequeathed two thousand pounds to Boyle. Boyle declares that he is through with Joxer and the like, whereupon Joxer, who was hiding outside the window, reappears, expresses his indignation, and leaves.

Two days later the two cronies...

(The entire section is 858 words.)