Juno And The Paycock Ireland In The Twentieth Century
SeÃ¡n O’Casey, the playwright, penned ‘Juno and the Paycock’ to provide an audience with an insight of what life was really like in this era in Ireland; it was a time when political extremism and a repression of the working class were at an all time high which he portrays through the struggles of the Boyle family. O’Casey’s own views on politics, family life and other problems affecting Ireland are also particularly evident throughout the play. He manipulates characters to show us the cultural, social and historical contexts of the play, therefore causing his contemporary audience and us, as present day viewers, to question motives and rethink our involvement with Ireland’s struggles. This is attained by contrasting narrow-minded, indoctrinated philosophies with a considerate sense of shared humanity, represented by a minority of characters, thus in turn showing that Ireland is in a dire state.
The storylines in ‘Juno and the Paycock’ were fuelled by O’Casey’s biographical details, born in Dublin in 1880 into a life of poverty and tenement living, we can see where the basis of the play stemmed. O’Casey has achieved an added sense of empathy from his audience when they realise that he in fact has lived the same lifestyle as the Boyle’s, and is showing a true reflection on what he feels of his childhood and his upbringing in this miserable reality of Twentieth Century Ireland. Residing in primarily Catholic Dublin at this time, would have been exceptionally difficult for O’Casey’s Protestant family; this religious segregation left him feeling a rather lonesome figure as political fanaticism had alienated the two ‘sides’ as seen professed in the play. Although O’Casey, in his later life, abandoned religion he has stressed its importance in the play to show how much influence the Church really had on the lives of Irish families as it has a significant effect on each character. O’Casey’s own mother was a huge influence in his life; with her caring and protective attitude towards her family we see that she is the origin of such constructs as Juno and Mrs. Tancred; seeing her and these characters as being strong-minded, independent, considerate women.
The playwright was involved in his earlier years with numerous organisations, none of which he viewed as reaching his prospects of what they should be. He was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood after falling out with the Gaelic League he was previously involved with for what he termed as ‘class reasons.’ However, O’Casey’s fiery Republicanism was not destined to last; he quickly lost his violent Nationalist enthusiasm due to the fact leaders such as Patrick Pearse whom thought a ‘blood sacrifice’ was needed in order to redeem Ireland; it was this bloody philosophy that made O’Casey see the error of his ways. He later joined the Citizen Army, though when the leaders began to formulate plans to liberate Ireland from British rule with the Nationalists O’Casey saw this as a betrayal of the workers and thus the Citizen Army too became involved with Nationalism. It is because of his involvement with these political organisations that O’Casey acquired his strong beliefs which are depicted in the speech, thoughts and actions of characters throughout the play.
O’Casey wrote ‘Juno and the Paycock’ during the Irish Civil War and the characters in the play are conventional constructs of the era. The Boyle family shows O’Casey’s personal scrutiny of Ireland and therefore the family as a whole is a microcosm of Ireland with each character portraying a different perception of the dramatist. The playwright depicts the struggles of the Irish nation through this family unit. We are never allowed to venture outside of the Boyle’s tenement home though we clearly see the different sectors of the Irish culture through the characters within this tenement building. We see how other nations don’t take notice of Ireland’s struggles through the fact that other people do not attempt to help the Boyle family, we notice that even Ireland’s ‘neighbour’ Britain leaves them to deal with their own problems as we can also gather from Bentham’s desertion of Mary in Act III – “The boyo that’s afther doin’ it to Mary done it to me as well,’ this phrase shows how the government of Britain and Ireland has abandoned every aspect of the Irish nation . This embodies the social and cultural differences between the two states, as the British saw the Irish people as barbaric savages.
From the very beginning of the play we see the dreadful circumstances that this family live in when the Boyle household is described; in the simple ‘two-roomed tenancy’ there is a range of mix-matched furniture, cheap ‘cretonne’ wall hangings, a traditional ‘galvanised bath,’ ‘a table and some chairs’ and ‘a dresser’ at the back. All these items and others noted are basic necessities and apart from ‘a few books’ there is little worth describing as luxuries. The books represent a passionate yearning on behalf of Mary to show how she would wish she were not in the situation in which she has been placed. This longing is later quashed in the play as we realise she is never going to achieve her dreams through Jack Boyle’s total ignorance in regards to the books Mary has read. ‘Buks only fit for chiselurs’ he incorrectly retorts to Joxer as they are serious social plays; though this is yet another instance where ‘Captain Boyle’ is attempting to show his intelligence, but we see he is actually professing his lack of knowledge.
Furthermore, another conspicuous feature positioned within their home is ‘the picture of the Virgin’ with the ‘votive light’ below which shows how the theme of religion is referred to in everyday life. We see the votive light as a sign of the family looking to Catholicism for protection, for so long as the light remains lit the shield of the Virgin Mary is evidently present, we see in Act III when it ‘gleams more redly than ever.’ This brighter light signifies the need for protection for all the family at the climactic point in the play. We are prepared from this description to see if the ritualistic religion they have been following has provided the protection needed for the entire Boyle family; as we see this is not the case as Johnny has not been saved by his religion, but rather become a martyr for it.
Contrastingly, in Act II the furnishings of the house have appeared to have changed dramatically as the Boyle’s equip their tenancy with new, more urbane fixtures which appears to make them of a higher social standing, though the irony in this statement is that with their attempts at sophistication they have actually made their tenement rooms look more ‘cheap’ and ‘vulgar’ than ever. This shows the truth of working-class life; once the stigma of poverty is there it cannot easily be erased even with the promise of money, because as O’Casey shows, no amount of money or possessions will ever expunge those years of scarcity and deprivation these characters (and Ireland as a whole) had to withstand. By trying to improve the outward appearance of their home the family is attempting to show that they are fit to be amongst people of a higher social class and that they want to raise themselves from the poverty they have unjustly become accustomed to. O’Casey presents this period of hope and dreaming as a rather ‘artificial’ time of the play, their hope is a faÃ§ade they hide behind instead of succumbing to the reality of poverty.
Furthermore, as these constructs are taken to represent key movements at the time of writing, it could be said that they are insincere, that the rhetoric they base their entire beliefs on is luring them into a false sense of hope. Even in this period of relief in the novel, Juno still voices aspects of practicality as she says ‘I’m afraid we’re runnin’ into too much debt,’ we see that although there is the promise of money and she has momentarily believed that they would escape their destined life of poverty, Juno’s character still has maintained her motherly caution that she has had to adopt for her family. Through the deterioration of this hope-filled period we see that O’Casey is showing the despondency of even attempting to evade the bleak reality of poverty in 1920’s Ireland.
Poverty is a key theme in the play and it is represented through each of the characters in the play, in particular those within the Boyle family. Juno is badly affected by poverty as we can clearly see from the use of stage directions. The stage directions in Act I clearly show her as having the look of all the ‘women of the working-class’ as they all have a look of a ‘listless monotony’ which is expanded by saying that ‘were circumstances were favourable, she would probably be a handsome, active and clever woman,’ We are told by this that like other characters Juno is being held back by her social situation, were the conditions more in her favour her potential would not have been wasted, much like the poor women affected by the political situation in all of Ireland and even the country itself. Like other women of this period, Juno is shown as being the firm but fair figure in the household. In her matriarchal role we see her being the provider of the income and the person the others turn to when all goes wrong. If we consider Juno as a symbol of destitute Ireland we see that the country is being held back by the citizen’s within it; as they make no attempt to release themselves from their impoverished situation such as Jack Boyle. Even the characters that do try and achieve this for instance Mary, seem to be unsuccessful and we see that every attempt to escape leads to further devastation.
Additionally, we see that Mary is a character that has been deeply distressed by this insolvency. Mary is another female character whom is seen to be continually held back due to her setting within her tenement building and her underprivileged family. This particular construct is exposed in Act I as being a strong-minded, vain woman as we see her ‘lying on the back of a chair’ gazing into a mirror’; from this stance we see that her confidence radiates throughout the room showing a stark contrast to her reclusive brother. Her speech and mannerisms are tarnished by her surroundings. Mary is used to represent a new generation’s way philosophies rather than the dogmatic principles of the previous. Throughout the play Mary attempts to raise herself from the poverty she has been thrust into, as we can see from her involvement with Charles Bentham. She feels that Bentham will be her saviour from the same fortune as her mother and many women alike. This struggle only seems to unleash more problems for Mary and her mother to face, as she is abandoned by her lover and then is told she is pregnant. The playwright is emphasizing the theory that it senseless in trying to breakout of the setting as it will only cause worse problems than before; shown by Mary and Juno in the play. Mary tries for herself to beat poverty and loses, as other women have done and as Juno is an illustration of Ireland we see that how, after all this fighting over poverty, politics and oppression, Ireland will be left in a worse state of devastation since The Potato Famine of 1845.
In Act I we find out that Mary is a member of the Trade Union. By making note of her being on strike in aid of a person she doesn’t like, O’Casey remarks on how easy it was at the time to follow trends and to trust others opinions on matters that would affect their lives. Mary seems to be easily led; she puts a lot of trust into people as we can see with Bentham and Jerry. She relies on Jerry to inform her of the truth of how to get out of poverty but he too have been conned into believing that Labour will help them into realising their dreams. But in fact it is her involvement with this movement that seems to make her want to reach higher than O’Casey, as a playwright, is prepared to let her go. This also suggests that the principles of the whole organization are meaningless as the participants do not fully comprehend the motives of the group. Mary’s character presents us with a positive view of the future; we can tell she is an optimist though this idealism proves to be her downfall. Mary seems to stand by her word and her statement “a principle’s a principle” is repeated throughout the play, we see this statement as being empty, just like the jargon of the Labour Movement. With her previous actions and descriptions, it would lead us to believe that Mary is not in love with Bentham at all and that she is essentially using him for his money and as a chance for her to climb the social ladder and though she claims to love him with all “her heart and soul” O’Casey shows us that there is a possibility of this being untrue due to the aforementioned reasons. This suggests that the hope of rising out of poverty isn’t worth it because all they acquired was pain and heartache. Possibly O’Casey is trying to portray that the middle-class exploit the poorer citizens for their own use because they are effortlessly influenced, as a result of their enthusiasm to get out of their situation and into the middle-class environment.
Although Juno presents a sense of realism in light of the news of impending money, it is Jack Boyle that I feel presents the signs of realistic views when Juno has yielded to the excitement of all the fuss. Jack accepts what he has got and knows that he will not get anywhere by trying to get out of his current situation so he gives up trying, he has his suspicions about Bentham which are proven to be true. However, we see that as Boyle has given up all sense of hope of ever recovering from this penury so he lives in the ‘past’ he has created for himself as we see by him telling that he was a sailor, member of the Volunteers, a poet, a martyr, a philosopher, a scholar and seeing himself as the epitome of the perfect husband in his previous years – “If you leave me out a needle an’ thread I’ll sew it on meself” – here we see him acting as the ideal spouse he makes out to be. These are all invented to make him sound interesting as a ‘person’ but we see that he is a poseur; really they are a form of escapism for him. Instead of facing the reality as Juno has done, he has covered it up with lie upon lie about himself. It is through this that we see his dependency on Juno, even though this is a man who in his day “held the dying Commandant Kelly in his arms” depends on Juno to look after him. Boyle is the “Paycock” of the play’s title, this nickname in itself which Juno has called him more than once in the play tells us more about the character of Jack Boyle. The Juno of Roman mythology had a peacock that followed her. The markings on its feathers were said to be the ‘all-seeing’ eyes, which is ironic due to the fact that Boyle is himself trying to escape reality, therefore making him theoretically blind to the happenings of the world around.
In spite of the moments in which there is gentle reprieve in the play, there are constant reminders in which we see the Boyle’s insolvent situation being shown to be evident by other minor characters such as the Coal Vendor yelling “D’yez want any blocks?” which they must refuse. They have to buy goods ‘on tick’ and thus we are constantly reminded of how difficult it seems for them to escape their current financial woes.
Poverty might be at fault for the breakdown of the family unit, but it also creates few positives moments to show that not everything associated with poverty is bad. As we have seen, being poor makes people more determined, and though the characters of this particular family construct do not achieve what they set out to get, others do. For example; Mrs Madigan, the Boyle’s neighbour, unaffected by events surrounding her, glides in with a “beaming smile and a nodding head.” Maisie Madigan has proven that even though she is poor, she has made the best of a bad situation. Just as Juno has, she is able to overcome the hardships of her life however difficult it may be and care for her family like any mother should.
Political fanaticism plays a vital role in the lives of the Boyle family. The character of Juno is the most obvious hit one as we see he lives in constant fear of who comes knocking at the door, as he bides time awaiting his imminent destiny with a ‘tremulous look of indefinite fear in his eyes.’. Johnny is physically and emotionally maimed, he had already lost an arm in Ireland’s fight for independence and now we see him amid fears that he will be killed in a reprisal. Johnny is, however, the most direct link we have to the fighting on the streets outside. Through Johnny, O’Casey is trying to convey the blind fanaticism of those that hold that ‘no man can do enough for Ireland!’ He uses Johnny as an illustration of the sinful waste of useful energy and fervour spent on the cause of Irish sovereignty, as well as calling into question the entire concepts of heroism.
We see that O’Casey is not taking sides in this play as he condemns violence from every side. There are many different views presented with the main one being that the act of killing is a senseless, inane act that must be stopped. The deaths of Johnny and Bobby Tancred (Die-hards) are not overvalued or glorified in any way. With the death of Mrs. Manning’s son we see how O’Casey presents his opinion of neutrality to us as her son is a Free-State soldier. Though these men are all fighting for different ‘sides’ it is their unity as sons we see as being significant; they are not described to us as men they are described as sons of the women of Ireland. Each man represents a particular division of the men of Ireland, and each mother embodies the grieving mothers of those men who have all been so mercilessly mutilated for their country, the pity for these mourning mothers creates a sense of pathos in the play.
We are shown how the soldiers have been moulded into being so cold-hearted, callous beings; the cruelty of these men to one another was a theory thought by many authors of the time; W. B. Yeats for example wrote in his poem ‘Easter 1916’ ‘Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart; we see this by the characterisation of the Young Man and The Irregulars. They have a lust for blood, as Parnell wanted with his sacrifice and will stop at nothing to achieve this. These men’s hearts have been hardened by leading this life and thus they exhibit no mercy to any of their victims. This creates an ominous tone to this part of the drama.
SeÃ¡n O’Casey shows us that many people were affected by the fighting of the time. Johnny is a young man; full of life that has been left crippled by his involvement with the Die-hards, the dramatic imagery of Johnny on stage creating a visual impact upon the audience, revealing cause for an increased sense of sympathy and possibly even guilt. The fighting also affects Juno; as a mother and representing Ireland. As Johnny has the view that ‘Ireland only half free’ll never be at peace while she has a son left to pull the trigger,’ confirming a much adopted view of the time. Juno is involved in the fighting as she is left to deal with her son’s death, whereas Boyle just shrugs it off as yet another patriotic death, ‘them things, don’t affect us,’ this is another excuse for Boyle to hide himself away as he uses escapism once again to make us believe that he is not bothered about his son’s death. O’Casey shows us that the ideals of people in all these movements are ridiculed by these deaths, as each death brings them further and further away from them realising their dreams.
Bentham shows a classic reaction fro the English at the time; they disagreed with the barbaric guerrilla warfare that is being fought. He has no compassion of people; when Mrs. Tancred is in mourning over the death of her son Bentham calmly retorts ‘the only way to deal with a mad dog is to destroy him.’ in this one sentence, he tranquilly dismisses all the reasons that the Irish people have for fighting, we see that he has no compassion for the dead, or the living for that matter. This would have been the stereotypical reaction of many middle-class English citizens at the time. Bentham played a major part in the dissolution of the Boyle family and if we once again consider the family as a microcosm we surmise that O’Casey is portraying that England played a major part in the disintegration of Ireland. In a way O’Casey is showing his views through Bentham, though he isn’t quite as harsh as he does have sympathy for the victims and their families but does not agree with warfare. The Anglo-Irish Treaty could have played a part in this conflict of interests as O’Casey feels that against the loss of sons and the division of families, can the cause of Nationalism ever be justified. And all of this in O’Casey’s words ‘over a few words included within the Treaty.’
Religion is another key theme within this play; it is shown to be a vital aspect in many people’s lives in Twentieth Century Dublin. Johnny considers himself a Christian, yet his incessant jingoism which leads him to kill is not a trait of a Christian. He is a hypocrite, he tells that Mary has brought ‘disgrace’ on the family for getting pregnant yet he caused a man to be savagely murdered. This also shows what the rest of the population thought of a child out of wedlock; even Juno for a time admits that Mary is a ‘stupid girl’ for getting herself into this situation, thought she returns to her humanitarian ways after realising that there is nothing she can do and she must support her daughter. Before Johnny leaves the house to accept his fate he pleads ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on me,’ and as Johnny is being drawn to his death we hear the Hail Mary being said; we see his dependence on religion, his Catholicism brings his peace in his final hours, and we see his reliance on the protection of ‘The Virgin’ and the ‘votive light’ throughout the play.
Dissimilar to Johnny, Boyle has a very low opinion on matters associated with the church; he feels that the Church does nothing for him, so why should he do anything for it. Though when he has been promised money he prohibits Joxer to speak ill of Father Farrell in his presence, just like when Mary falls pregnant he seems to turn to religion for help. This could possibly to be to withhold his ‘reputation’ as he does care what people around him think, and the people surrounding Boyle care deeply about what the Lord feels about them. The women of the play I have noticed place much of their hopes in religion though just like the men’s empty principles they do not have any guarantees of salvation; both types of people are dominated by ethics of so-called ‘cults’ of the day.
The Labour movement is shown continually to have hollow principles with no real meaning to them. They are just learned off phrases which seem to fit with O’Casey’s view of the Labour movement. This movement is personified by Jerry Devine. He is a representative for the whole of the Labour party in the play and with his empty phrases has gotten Mary to fall for Labour’s hopes and ideals for the future. His lack of kindness to Mary at the end of the play is strongly evident as he almost disowns her for falling pregnant, even though just a while before he promised he would do anything to keep her. This shows how, as with the Labour Movement, Jerry has fulfilled his promises and then when it comes to the final moment where everyone can finally get the peace they wanted and to fulfil their dreams, they are shattered by the organisation. Mary – representing Ireland – shows how this ‘globe of beauty’ was an ‘ugly thing’ as well; we are shown that Ireland has been ruined with the people hoping and dreaming of the future and thinking things will automatically get better if they let the fighting run its course.
From the start the play has an ominous foreshadowing tone thrust upon it when the reference of Bobby Tancred is announced. Johnny gets agitated and we see this throughout the play and do not know why until later. We see through Boyle’s words what affect the deaths of soldiers has on the people when he utters that its ‘man’s inhumanity to man, makes countless thousands mourn’ from this we see the sheer enormity of the ‘state o’ chassis’ that Ireland is in. The form in this tragi-comedy results in the tragedy being heightened as we see that O’Casey lets some characters use jokes to make light of a bad situation, but once the Boyle ‘s troubles get worse there is no room for laughter.
‘Juno and the Paycock’ is a play that has a huge effect on modern viewers and particularly to an audience in this period. To see their situation shown by an ‘outsider’ to be as violent and corrupt as it is portrayed must have been appalling and almost definitely make them rethink their options and their involvement with such trauma which is what O’Casey intended to achieve. His portrayal of women bearing the bulk of the brunt makes it all the more tragic, as though in this play women are seen to be strong, they do have their weaknesses such as ‘love’ and the promise of money. O’Casey is showing how he feels that people should move on from their idealistic ways and focus more on the real situation in hand. Otherwise, the very country they are fighting to protect will be indefinitely destroyed by their disagreements. Thoughtless homicides will not help the situation to be resolved and thus Boyle is proved for the first time to be right ‘the whole world’s in a state o’ chassis.’