Monday, June 23, 2014

Tragicomedy in Dublin

Juno and the Paycock 
by Seán O'Casey

 “Laughter is wine for the soul - laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness - the hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living.”  ― Seán O'Casey

Juno and the Paycock is the second in his "Dublin Trilogy" that also includes The Shadow of a Gunman and The Plough and the Stars

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, also known as Jupiter or Zeus, chief of Olympian gods. In O'Casey's play he stands for Paycock i.e. showy and vain. And as Juno’s husband Captain Boyle is a very irresponsible and an idle person. This is example of O’Casey’s brilliant ability to create 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.

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. The arc of the story sees the fortunes of Juno and her family soar with anticipation of an unexpected inheritance only to return to earth in the last half of the play when the inheritance disappears along with the crafty lawyer who duped them and also beguiled Mary. Mary's character has a depth that I enjoyed that was demonstrated by her interest in literature. She always had a book in her hand and was cleverly shown reading Ibsen, whom I am sure likely influenced O'Casey's art.

The background of this tragicomedy is based in the impact of the political strife in Ireland following the Easter Rising of 1916, the Irish War of Independence from 1919-1921, followed by the Irish Civil War. As the play opens son Johnny has already lost an arm in the struggles and he has betrayed Robbie Tancred, a neighbor and fellow comrade in the IRA, who was subsequently killed by Free State supporters; Johnny is afraid that he will be executed as punishment. In spite of this turmoil there were impressive comic moments carefully integrated to lighten the combined impact of poverty and war on the family. One typical moment has Mr. Boyle and his friend Joxer Daly discussing books and history. But their mock-intellectual discussion is interrupted by the voice of a coal vendor. Joxer flies out of the window at hearing the voice of Juno. 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.
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.  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 feminist play that Juno struggles evenhandedly 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 slum life in Dublin.

I enjoyed The realistic presentation of tragic events leavened by comic moments. The play is considered one of the most effective plays in English literature. O'Casey's handling of both mythic 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. and caricature make this a great play that has been popular in Ireland and elsewhere since its first production.

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Brian Joseph said...

Sounds great.

As you allude to, the dynamic between Captain Boyle, Juno Boyle sounds particularly interesting. Contrasting elements acting side by side can be so interesting.

James said...

Your observation is incisive. The play is filled with contrasting elements that contribute to its universality.