English Literature » Notes » Juno and the Paycock : An Introduction

Juno and the Paycock : An Introduction

Sean O’Casey was born in 1880 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:

There are the free staters,
There are also those who demand have ruled Ireland within the authority of English parliament
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
OR
(ii) To unite with England
OR
(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.