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Studies on Sean O'Casey

Jacqueline Genet
Wynne Hellegouarc’h

Art and Ethics in Juno and the Pavcock

Carmela Moya

Texte intégral

1As early as The Shadow of a Gunman, it is relatively easy to pinpoint the themes that would continue to dominate O'Casey's later work, both narrative and dramatic. All the plays of The Great Trilogy were an invective against war in increasing degrees of intensity; it is logical enough, therefore, that this should culminate in a work of the condemnation of war on a world-wide scale: The Silver Tassie. The very vastness of the subject, the innumerable anonymous victims forced O'Casey to push back the walls and demand a larger framework; this led him to experiment with expressionistic techniques, particularly in the second act which so troubled Yeats with its symbolic characters, surrealistic scenery, staccato dialogue and choral incantation.

2But if Juno and The Plough were anti-war plays, they were equally those of a committed writer who had no intention of dropping his fight against social injustice either inside Ireland or outside of it. The Great Depression, therefore, could not have failed to fire the indignation or the imagination of an artist concerned with modern man and his problems. These preoccupations were crystallised in Within the Gates, where the stream of characters flocking to Hyde Park (a microcosm of the world) could, once again, be easily evoked by expressionistic techniques in which archetypal figures, who often had no individual identity, became representatives of forces larger than themselves. In this play, too, he continues to exalt the Life Force, which in the Trilogy had taken the form of the rage for life, and in The Tassie had been embodied in Harry Heegan; this force, which Shaw (influenced by Schopenhauer and Samuel Butler) had evoked before him, but which O'Casey made particularly his own, was to become a leitmotiv in all his subsequent works, including the Autobiographies.

  • 1 Desmond Ryan, Remembering Sion (London, Arthur Baker, 1934).
  • 2 The Commonweal. XXII, II Oct. 1935.

3The dramatist did not change overnight, but followed a natural evolution both in Ireland and abroad, however daring an innovator he proved himself to be. It is true, as he himself admitted, that it was only through an Irish scene that his imagination could weave a way if it was to have a full, or, at least, a fair chance to play. True, also, that when he relives "the savage and the wild Joy he would never know again, the darkest depths of slumland and the agony of the unsuspected years of turmoil and terror"1 as in Juno and The Plough, he moves us as few of his later plays have the power to do. It is quite another matter, however, to persist in regarding the dramatist's uprooting as a tragic error, to affirm with Sean O'Faolain that "never was exile more foolishly and unprofltably imposed than by this man who mistook two theatre directors for a whole people and thereby deprived himself of an inspiration, of an audience and of a home".2 Such critics, in point of fact, continue to repeat Yeats' mistake, speaking as if there were two O'Caseys: the author of the supposedly 'realistic' Trilogy and 'the other' who underwent foreign influences and adopted expressionistic techniques. As David Krause points out:

  • 3 Sean O'Casey, The Man and His Work (London, Macgibbon and Kee, 19o7), p. 66.

The action in each succeeding play (in The Gunman, Juno and The Plough) is built around an ever-expanding radius of involvement, In the first play the conflict arises when a poet and a pedlar inadvertently become Involved in the war; in the second play a whole family is caught in the cross-fire of battle; and in the third play all the people in the tenements are trapped by the war that now covers the whole city which is in flames at the end of the play.3

  • 4 Autobiographies I (London, Macmillan, 1963), pp. 662-666.

4Moreover, these first three plays are all pacifist ones like The Silver Tassie, the main characters, the civilians, being the 'heroes'. O'Casey doggedly refused to idealize violence, whether dealing with the Easter Rising as in The Plough, guerrilla warfare as in The Gunman, or Civil War as in Juno, perhaps the grimmest situation of all where "Things had changed, but not utterly; and no terrible beauty was to be born" as the dramatist remarked bitterly at the beginning of Inishfallen Fare Thee Well, misquoting the last lines of Drums Under The Windows, parodying Yeats, himself, his own lost illusions. O'Casey still pays homage to the lost leaders: to Paudrig Pearse, Commandant-General of the Irish Republican Army who..." holds Ireland by her rough and graceful hand, loth to let it go", to Connolly, "last of the lost leaders., become a marbled memory". Nor does he forget the anonymous Sinn Feiners "their haggard faces chipped into bleeding jaggedness"4 those convicted by courts-martial and shot, the one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two men and five women interned without trial.... What he finds ludicrous, is the fact that the burning question "Was he out in Easter Week?" should have become the touchstone of Irish life and that:

It was those who hadn't been out themselves who roared silence at anyone venturing to send a remark into a conversation led by a lad home from a prison or a concentration camp; for the lads themselves were exceedingly modest about it all and were often embarrassed by their hangers on, who forgot that most of Dublin, willy-nilly, was out in Easter Week; that there weren't many Dublin houses without bullet-holes in them; and that casualties were heavier among those who weren't out than among those who were.

  • 5 Autobiographies II, p. 3.

(Italics mine).5

  • 6 Autobiographies I, p. 657.

5Along with Seamus Shields in The Shadow of a Gunman, O'Casey arrirms "I believe in the freedom of Ireland, and that England has no right to be here, but I draw the line when I hear the gunmen blowin' about dyin' for the people, when it's the people that are dyin' for the gunmen I" In point of fact, O'Casey's vision is resolutely anti-heroic, and like Synge before him, he is all for the deflation of the Irish ego. He knows that cowardice, like heroism, is to be found in the most unlikely places and that both can co-exist in one and the same person, himself Included. As he tells us In "The Bold Fenian Hen" (Drums Under The Windows) describing his own vicissitudes during the Insurrection, he found himself shaking and tense with fright after having been searched by English soldiers for an automatic, narrowly escaping death from badly aimed shells from the gunboat Helga and from the sniper's bullet: "he had had a stiff time trying to hold on to his pride and dignity. For a long time he had tried to keep out of danger, and as often he had found himself in the thick of it... he didn't like this sort of thing at all. As he grew in grace and wisdom, he waa growing less and less of a hero. Like the fine and upright Alderman Tom Kelly, he wanted to die in his bed surrounded by medicine bottles."6 (Italics mine). Or as Joxer puts it more badly still: "It's betther to be a coward than a corpse!"

6Indeed, O'Casey's 'heroes', be it in the Trilogy or in the Autobiographies, are, for the most part, anti-heroes or, at least, ambiguous. Thin, delicate, cuckolded Charlie Ballynoy who cares for no manner of politics and was born timid "with a daisy in his mouth" is a case in point. During a raid by the Black and Tans in the tenements which O'Casey describes in The Shadow of a Gunman and in Inishfallen Fare Thee Well it is this alum-dweller who, with all hia timidity, dares to defy the British Empire and who does not merely play at heroics like Davoren, 'poet and poltroon, poltroon and poet. His small head held high, he lifts his iron-locked hands dripping with blood when arrested to shout: "Up the Republic!" as Minnie Powell had done before him.

  • 7 Sean O'Casey (Lewisburg, Bucknell University Press, 1970), p. 37.
  • 8 Ronald Ayling, Sean O'Casey (London, Macmillan, 1969), p. 76.

7Like Hamlet, O'Casey knew only too well that being and seeming are vastly different, that cowards are occasionally capable of heroism and 'heroes' capable of acts of cowardice. These two factors (along with self-awareness/ self-deception) are basic to the understanding of the Trilogy in general and of Juno and the Paycock in particular, especially where Johnny Boyle is concerned. Bernard Benstock suggests that the dramatist gave the designation of "tragedy" to the play because this "lesser" character is killed,7 which may be true, but in part only, to my mind. It is the reason for his death and the gratuitousness of the situation which are tragic, particularly as he is one of the rare characters to have attained a state of semi self-awareness, and in part, at least, to have fulfilled the principles he stands for. It is he who is the link between the Boyle family and Civil War, between inner and outer action (which O'Casey uses in true Chekhovian manner) and It is through him that we apprehend the vast tragedy, "the terrible state o' chassis" in the world outside. He is a link with recent history having been a participant in the Easter Rising – when he was hit in the hip by a bullet as a young boy scout – and in the battle on O'Connell Street – when, as an Irregular, he lost an arm. Barely more than a child, he is a veteran, twice a hero, mutilated in mind as well as body, not only riddled with fear of reprisal for suspected betrayal of a fellow Republican, but also a slave to his past actions and former ideals. He cannot opt out of the I.R.A. however much he yearns to do so, any more than he can escape their summary justice. As James Agate has pointed out." Juno and The Paycock is as much a tragedy as Macbeth, although it is a tragedy taking place in the porter's family",8 but the reason why this is so, in spite of "the gorgeous and incredible fooling" is, I think, Johnny's downfall, the 'hero' turned traitor and become abject coward. This psychological disintegration is, moreover, omnipresent in the play which is punctuated at intervals by his obsession with the votive light burning beneath the picture of the Virgin and which, to young Boyle's horror goes out shortly before his execution. The symbolism ("put out the light and then put out the light") is self-explanatory, but there is no denying the dramatic impact of this leitmotiv in the play which is as all-pervading as the Civil War itself.

8O'Casey's attitude to the latter has been made abundantly clear, both in Juno and The Paycock and elsewhere; the opening lines of the play refer to the assassination of young Tancred: "On a little by-road, out beyant Finglas, he was found" and a little further down: "seven wounds he had – on entherin' the neck, with an exit wound beneath the left breast penethratin' the heart..." to which Johnny springing up from the fire screams: "Oh, quit that readin' for God's sake! Are yous losin' all your feelin's? It'll soon be that none of you'll read any thin' that's not about butcherin'!" (italics mine). The play, therefore, begins on a national plane and ends on a universal one even if the final words are put into the mouths of drunken, braggart clowns who reflect O'Casey's mock heroic vision: "Th' whole worl's... in a terr...ible state o'chassis!"

9The dramatist was to enlarge on the theme of Civil War again in a chapter of the Autobiographies ironically entitled "Comrades" (Inlshfalien Pare Thee Well) where Lanehin, the unarmed Republican is pursued by his former comrade Clonervy, the Free Stater who had served under him when they were both fighting the Black and Tans. The latter, who has recently been made a colonel, catches up with him, breaks off a sprig of heather and fixes it in his cap, then he advances towards Lanehin without a word. After a long silence, the mesmerised Republican, half dead with fear already, whimpers: "I surrendher... . Jesus! Yous wouldn't shoot an old comrade, Mick!" Clonervy's arm whips forward, he crashes the muzzle of the gun through Lanehin's chattering teeth and pulls the trigger. The analogy with Tancred and Johnny Is clear:

Two Irregulars enter swiftly; they carry revolvers; one goes over to Johnny; the other covers the two furniture men.

Second Irregular (to Johnny). Come on, Sean Boyle, you're wanted; some of us have a word to say to you.
Johnny. I'm sick, 1 can't – what do you want with me?
Second Irregular. Come on, come on ; we've a distance to go, an' we haven't much time – come on.
Johnny. I'm an oul' comrade – yous wouldn't shoot an out' comrade.
Second Irregular. Poor Tancred was an oul' comrade o' yours, but you didn't think o' that when you gave him away to the gang that sent him to his grave. But we've no time to waste... Have you your beads?
Johnny. Me beads! Why do you ass me that?
Second Irregular. Go on, go on, march!
Johnny. Are yous goin' to do in a comrade? look at me arm, I lost it for Ireland.
Second Irregular. Commandant Tancred lost his life for Ireland. (Italics mine).

10In these particular, yet typical incidents, O'Casey lays bare the atrocities of Civil War with all its gratuitousness. The situations themselves are full of dramatic irony two Irishmen, who together, had fought a common enemy for the freedom of their country, are now at each other's throats, victim and executioner.

  • 9 Autobiographies II, pp.73 on.
  • 10 For a detailed explanation cf. P.S. Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine (Glasgow: Fontana, 1973) pp. 4 (...)

11'Comrades' is far more virulent and pessimistic in tone than Juno and The Paycock, but both are diatribes against the war O'Casey condemned unconditionally. In the dramatist's opinion: "Not a leader had the power or personality... to check the drift to an armed fight for dominance". 9 Now that the Black and Tans had been withdrawn with the British Cavalry, the Irish were out to 'bite' one another: the Free State army on the one hand, the Republicans on the other. Soon "Kelt was killing Kelt as expertly and as often as he could". Cathal Brugha and Rory O'Connor, the Republicans, and Michael Collins, the Free Stater would, along with Griffith, all escape into the grave. No one cared a whit for Document No. 2, 10 nor about abolishing poverty. "It was just a spate of words that Alice in Wonderland wouldn't understand". Yeats was climbing the winding stair of Thoor Ballylee wondering what it all meant, while "the whole of Ireland was following a hearse and Ireland herself was driving the horses". Yesterday, Ireland's terrible beauty had the green freshness of spring... today it was withered and well in the fire".

12Johnny epitomizes these last mentioned concepts, and although he is certainly not a particularly inspiring character as the symbol of war-torn Ireland, he is indispensable to the plot, also as mouthpiece for the ideas that O'Casey needed to have expressed if only in order to refute them. The following passage when Juno introduces her son to Bentham is a case in point:

Mrs. Boyle. He's afther goin' through the mill. He was only a chiselur of a Boy Scout in Easter Week, when he got hit in the hip; and his arm was blew off in the fight in O'Connel Street... Noone can deny he done his bit for Irelan', if that's goin' to do him any good.
Johnny (boastfully) I'd do it agen, ma, I'd do it agen; for a principle's a principle.
Mrs. Boyle. Ah, you lost your best principle, me boy, when you lost your arm; them's the only sort o' principles that's any good to a workin' man.
Johnny. Ireland only half free'll never be at peace while she has a son left to pull a trigger.
Mrs. Boyle. To be sure, to be sure – no bread's a lot betther than half a loaf.

13Johnny here, of course, is echoing Mary's words at the beginning of the play concerning her participation in the strike to defend a fellow worker:

Mrs. Boyle. I don't know why you wanted to walk out for Jennie Glaffey; up to this you never had a good word for her.
Mary. What's the use of belongin' to a Trades Union if you won't stand up for your principles? Why did they sack her? It was a clear case of victimization. We couldn't let her walk in the streets, could we?
Mrs. Boyle. No, of course yous couldn't – you wanted to keep her company. Wan victim wasn't enough. When the employers sacrifice wan victim, the Trades Union go wan betther be sacrificin' a hundred.
Mary. It doesn't matther what you say, ma – a principle's a principle.
Mrs. Boyle. Yis; an' when I go into oul' Murphy's tomorrow, an' he gets to know that, instead o' payin' all, I'm goin' to borry more, what'll he say when I tell him a principle's a principle?

14O'Casey was too profoundly Irish to be indifferent to the cause of the nationalists although his loyalties belonged first and foremost to the cause of labour. For him, Larkin's general strike of 1913 was the crucial event in Irish history, not the Easter Rising itself (as secretary of the militant Irish Citizen Army, he chose to be a 'rebel worker' rather than a 'rebel patriot'. Yet in the above extracts, he is obviously on the side of Juno who knows only too well the incongruity between great words and poor deeds, that Mary is too easily swayed by the most facile arguments and that Johnny's imagination feeds on empty illusions...

15It is this lack of self-knowledge, of moral authenticity, that O'Casey criticises severely. Indeed, in spite of, or perhaps because of his political convictions, few of the socialist characters in the Trilogy escape whipping and tend to fare somewhat worse than his rhetorical nationalists even with their dithyrambic utterances. Jerry Devine is a case in point: he cannot live up to his profession of faith or stand by his promises as Mary learns to her cost when she sighs: "It's only as I expected – your humanity is just as narrow as the humanity of others". Devine's chief reason for wanting to stand for the Secretaryship of the Union appears to be that it is worth three hundred and fifty pounds a year, and as O'Casey rather scathingly remarks In his stage directions: "He is a type, becoming very common in the Labour Movement, of a mind knowing enough to make the mass of his associates, who know less, a power, and too little to broaden that power for the benefit of all." The Covey in The Plough and The Stars with his fervent materialistic catechisms (an atheist like Jerry Devine, incidentally) fares little better.

16Some critics have observed that if Juno and the Paycock is a remarkable play, it is more thanks to the characterisation than to the plot. The latter tends to be somewhat conventional, melodramatic even, if one assesses it with reference to its inner action only, that is to say, the bare bones of the story: news of an unexpected legacy Is brought Into the tenements by Bentham, a social climber who seduces Mary, Jerry Devine's former fiancée. He then flees to England when Mary becomes pregnant and the will has fizzled out due to inadequate wording. Johnny Boyle is taken out and shot by the Republicans for having betrayed a comrade; Juno and Mary leave the house, abandoning the drunken Captain for good to make a fresh start elsewhere. Now, it is the last two elements of the plot that lift it above the common run: in the first instance, inner and outer action merge and the play becomes closely linked to Ireland's history; the tragedy which has been building up – and has been hinted at systematically all through the play, contributing to the suspense and the dramatic tension – reaches its climax after the revealment of Johnny's disloyalty and subsequent arrest. With regard to the second element, that of" Juno's departure, one can only admire the artistic inevitability of the action. At the beginning of the play, O'Casey describes her expression as one of "listless monotony and harassed anxiety, blending with a look of mechanical resistance", which seemingly excludes any element of free choice. But as the play progresses, in spite of her foibles (the Justifiable nagging, the over-protectiveness) she gains in moral strength and stature with each blow she receives, to attain true heroic dimensions at the end of the play. Like Eve, she is too human to be unafraid, but too human to let fear put an end to her.

17Juno, obviously, is one of O'Casey's major figures as are the two mock-heroic clowns, the two anti-heroic braggarts cast in the Roman-Elizabethan mould. These Fals-taffian jesters, of the same calibre as Fluther Good in The Plough and the Stars, are perfect foils one for the other, and it is thanks to the fawning of 'Joxer', the parasite slave, that the 'Captain's' imagination rises to giddy heights of fantasy....They are, of course, totally irresponsible – a defect that O'Casey criticises mercilessly in all his works – but it is obvious that he glories in the antics of these rogues, in their lack of inhibition, knowing only too well that it is "the dreaming, the heart-scalding never satisfying dreaming., (which) saves thinking ... working... everything except imagination; and imagination's such a torture that you can't bear it without whiskey". He knows, too, that words for the tenement dwellers translate these scalding dreams and are a form of self-defence, hence the extravagance of fantasy with which his characters react against the weight of poverty and humiliation, particularly the men. It is common knowledge that it was the Irish working class woman O'Casey so admired her indomitable courage, her grit, humour and common sense, be it the frail Mollser in The Plough and the Stars, whose cry "Is there anybody goin' with a titther o' sense?" echoes Juno's "What can God do agen' the stupidity o' men?" or the formidable Bessie Burgess for all her exaggerated invective. In point of fact, the heroines far outnumber the 'heroes' and almost always remain closer to the realities of life. Juno, in particular, epitomizes the dramatist's conception of Woman (although at times he uses her to express some of his own personal views, just as he uses the 'Captain' as mouthpiece with regard to the role of the clergy in Ireland, for example). Even Juno's name with all its symbolic and classical connotations (Queen of Heaven/ Protectress of marriage and Woman/ War Goddess/ "The Chosen One") is given a down-to-earth explanation. She is, indeed, the Mother of flesh and blood (though, potentially, the Mater Dolorosa) who is sacrificed, ignored, misunderstood, whereas Mother Ireland Is loved in the abstract; blood sacrifices are made to her by her sons, who, like Johnny, are incapable of working to support their own kith and kin. O'Casey never ceases criticising this attitude in his anti-war plays, particularly in Juno and The Plough. When a neighbour tries to comfort Mrs. Tancred after the death of her son by observing: "It's a sad Journey we're goin' on, but God's good an' the Republic won't be always down", Mrs. Tancred sighs: "Ah, what good is that to me now? Whether they're up or down – it won't bring me darlin' boy from the grave... An' I'll go on livin' like a pauper. Ah, what's the pains I suffered bringin' him into the world to carry him to his cradle, to the pains I'm sufferin' now, carryin' him out o' the world to bring him to his grave!"

  • 11 Bernard Shaw, John Bull's Other Island (London, Constable, 1931), p. 311.

18Another instance is when The Mobilizer orders Johnny to attend a Battalion Staff meeting and the latter cries passionately: "I won't go! Haven't I, done enough for Ireland! I've lost me arm, an' me hip's desthroyed so that I'll never be able to walk right agen! Good God, haven't I done enough for Ireland?" to which an ironic O'Casey makes the Mobilizer retort: "Boyle, no man can do enough for Ireland!" These words find their echo in the following play when the 'heroes', afraid to say they are afraid, enter the snug hurriedly. Captain Brennan carries the banner of The Plough and the Stars, and Lieut. Langon a green, white and orange Tri-colour. "They are in a state of emotional excitement. Their faces are flushed and their eyes sparkle; they speak rapidly, as if unaware of the meaning of what they said. They have been mesmerized by the fervency of the speeches". (Italics mine).11

Lieut. Langon. Th' time is rotten ripe for revolution.
Clitheroe. You have a mother, Langon.
Lieut. Langon. Ireland is greater than a mother.
Capt. Brennan. You have a wife, Clitheroe.
Clitheroe. Ireland is greater than a wife.
Capt. Brennan (catching up The Plough and the Stars). Imprisonment for th' Independence of Ireland!
Lieut. Langon. (catching up the Tri-colour). Wounds for th' Independence of Ireland!
Clitheroe. Death for th' Independence of Ireland!The Three (together). So help us God!
(ACT 2)

  • 12 Autobiographies I, p.609.

19Shaw, in John Bull's Other Island makes Larry Doyle confess that if you want to interest an Irishman in his country, "you've got to call the unfortunate island Kathleen ni Houlihan and pretend she's a little old woman," a view that O'Casey would seem to endorse, although his was a love-hate relationship. Indeed, if the shadow of ni Houlihan is omnipresent in the Trilogy, she is undoubtedly the major feminine figure of the Autobiographies, as much the anti-heroine as the heroine of this epic. He soon became wary of what he considered to be the dangerously romantic attitude of certain of his compatriots towards her; that of Griffith, for example, that of Connolly. He even found Yeats' attitude equivocal: Cathleen was no queen of an ivory tower, not Just the symbol of a privileged woman intelligentsia, but that of the whole of Ireland and of the Irish working woman in particular. O'Casey even compares her to Mild Millie, a Juno of the tenements, who in order to bear up against misfortune 'goes wild with red biddy' (methylated spirits) but who is full of fire, courage and quirky patriotism. As he contemplates her dead drunk on the pavement after her mad dance – always a manifestation of the Life Force for the dramatist – he observes with bitterness and rage: "She loves Cathleen ni Houlihan, in her own reckless way. In a way she is Cathleen ni Houlihan – a Cathleen with the flame out of her eyes turned downwards..."12

20For O'Casey, there were now two ni Houlihans running round Dublin: the one coarsely dressed, brave and brawny "at ease in the smell of sweat... vital and asurge with immortality" like the Millies and Junos of this world; the other traditional, respectable, the "darling" of the employers. The dramatist was to remain loyal to the first Cathleen all his life, but he found the Cathleen of the Insurrection and of Civil War, disquieting, not to say alarming, seeming to delight in the fact that this was "a rare time for death in Ireland."

21She is the epitome of violence and destruction whereas Juno, like Mild Millie and most of O'Casey's heroines from Minnie Powell to Loreleen in Cock-a-Doodle Dandy, is a manifestation of the Life Force. So, indeed are 'Captain' Boyle and his 'buttie', Joxer, who, in spite of their irresponsibility and maudlin drunkenness are 'asurge with vitality' like Falstaff himself. The struttin' Paycock remains gloriously grotesque to the bitter end...

22These three-dimensional characters, 'as large as life and twice as natural' are notable instances of O'Casey's uncanny gift for characterisation; he plays off the heroic against the anti-heroic (Juno against the two braggarts) in a contrapuntal pattern, a tragi-comic rhythm throughout the play, his ironically comic vision providing the unity of theme. If his world is in "a terrible state o' chassis", if it is tragic on account of the upheaval of war and the degradation of poverty, his imaginative perception of it is not. He knows with George Bernard Shaw that:

  • 13 "Tolstoy : Tragedian or Comedian?", 1921, Pen Portraits and Reviews, (London, Constable, 1932) pp. (...)

Nothing will prevent the English (-speaking) playwright from mixing comedy, and even tomfoolery with tragedy. Lear may pass for pure tragedy; for even the fool in Lear is tragic; but Shakespeare could not keep the porter out of Macbeth nor the clown out of Anthony and Cleopatra. We are incorrigible in this respect, and may as well make a merit of it.13

  • 14 The World of Sean O'Casey (1966), p. 143.

23O'Casey does just this, constantly juxtaposing the tragic with the mock heroic, the latter (those boosy, low notes of Juno) heightening, and not detracting from the former. He was fascinated by the tragic and comic elements in life equally, in the same way that he was fascinated as much by the spoken as by the written word. According to Krause, he would inevitably tell his anecdotes in dialogue form, giving what the others had said and what he had said, acting out all the parts in a well-flavoured style... with a consequential brogue that still retained the lilting cadences of the northside of the Lirrey.14

  • 15 Synge in his preface to The Playboy of the Western World.
  • 16 The World of Sean O'Casey, p.197.
  • 17 'Jig Into Eternity', The Nation, 29 April, 1961.

24It is, of course, true that O'Casey, like Synge, had the good fortune to be born in a country where the language or the people themselves gave the writer the possibility of being "rich and copious in his words, and at the same time to give the reality which is the root of all poetry, in a comprehensive and natural form".15 It is a vastly different matter, however, to affirm that O'Casey's dialogue (or Synge's for that matter) was a transcription pure and simple of the conversations he heard around him. As Gabriel Fallon has pointed out, it is futile to draw "an intriguing picture based on second-hand evidence of O'Casey sitting in a Dublin tenement scribbling down the remarks of 'Captain' Boyle and Joxer Daly. Boyle and Daly are.... composite characters born from long and deep brooding on dozens of originals."16 T.R. Henn even affirms that O'Casey recreated the tongue of his native city and K. Sullivan suggests that is the idiom the dramatist uses is that of Dublin, the rhythm is of the West.17 So much for O'Casey, naturalist or tape-recorder, however spontaneous his dialogue appears to be... As Harold Clurman remarks, O'Casey's poetry is:

  • 18 The Nation, 14 January 1956.

for all its musical clangour and reaching for the moon, a helter-skelter, tatter-dernalion, bubbling poetry in which the characters are usually unaware of poetic intent. They speak in alliteration and in chaotic effusiveness with the natural vigour and pleasure of a street boy's slang. Great phrases come pouring out of O'Casey's people as if an overturned garbage pail revealed gems as well as refuse – and little distinction were made between one and the other.18

25And it is certainly true that in Juno as in The Plough O'Casey recreated his own poetry out of that of the streets. He was a self-avowed enemy of realism, nor do his plays follow the principles of Naturalism; those critics who affirm they do so should re-read the lament of Juno, become the Universal Mother:

Mother o' God, Mother o' God have pity on us all! Blessed Virgin, where were you when me darlin' son was riddled with bullets? Sacred Heart o' Jesus, take away our hearts o' stone, and give us hearts o' flesh I Take away this murdherin' hate, an' give us Thine own eternal love!

26The influence of the Bible on O'Casey's work, here and elsewhere is striking: the rhetoric of the Old Testament, the deceptive simplicity and the conversational tone of the New; they are hardly those of a Dublin working class woman, but they are so exactly right. O'Casey, however, does not end his play on Juno's dramatic and heartrending lament, but on the rumbustious and randy accents of his two mock heroic clowns; his art is Inseparable from his ethics and both translate his tragi-comic vision of Man.


1 Desmond Ryan, Remembering Sion (London, Arthur Baker, 1934).

2 The Commonweal. XXII, II Oct. 1935.

3 Sean O'Casey, The Man and His Work (London, Macgibbon and Kee, 19o7), p. 66.

4 Autobiographies I (London, Macmillan, 1963), pp. 662-666.

5 Autobiographies II, p. 3.

6 Autobiographies I, p. 657.

7 Sean O'Casey (Lewisburg, Bucknell University Press, 1970), p. 37.

8 Ronald Ayling, Sean O'Casey (London, Macmillan, 1969), p. 76.

9 Autobiographies II, pp.73 on.

10 For a detailed explanation cf. P.S. Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine (Glasgow: Fontana, 1973) pp. 442 etc.

11 Bernard Shaw, John Bull's Other Island (London, Constable, 1931), p. 311.

12 Autobiographies I, p.609.

13 "Tolstoy : Tragedian or Comedian?", 1921, Pen Portraits and Reviews, (London, Constable, 1932) pp.260-266.

14 The World of Sean O'Casey (1966), p. 143.

15 Synge in his preface to The Playboy of the Western World.

16 The World of Sean O'Casey, p.197.

17 'Jig Into Eternity', The Nation, 29 April, 1961.

18 The Nation, 14 January 1956.


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