Jack Boyle is the "paycock" (peacock) in the play's title, so nicknamed by his wife Juno as he struts around in a showy way without doing anything useful. He refuses to look for work, complaining of pains in his legs when anyone suggests he applies for a job. Instead he prefers to spend his time drinking and consorting with his friend 'Joxer' Daly. While his antics are often humorous, he is deluded and self-centered. He calls himself a captain and regales others with stories of his seafaring days, but in fact he was only once on a vessel. His invalid son Johnny cannot count on him for help, and when his daughter Mary becomes pregnant, he thinks only of the shame her plight will bring upon him. His short time thinking he will inherit several thousand pounds from a relative make little difference. He borrows money and makes purchases on credit, and when he finds out the legacy is worthless he tries to withhold this information from his creditors. He ends drunk and nearly penniless, no different than how he was when the play began.
Juno Boyle is Jack Boyle's wife. She acquired her nickname because of the many momentous occasions which occurred in June: she was born and christened in June, met her husband in June, married in June, and gave birth to her son Johnny in June. The name Juno also refers to the sister and wife of Jupiter in Roman mythology, the goddess of marriage and love. We see by the end of the play that Juno is aptly named, for she is a strong character who can be thought of as a symbol of womankind. She is the only member of her family who is working, since Boyle is unemployed, Mary is on strike, and Johnny is injured, and she acts as a kind of martyr who keeps her family afloat. She feeds her family, comforts her son, tries to get Boyle to work, and supports her pregnant daughter when nobody else will. In contrast to her husband, she becomes stronger and wiser due to the tragic circumstances of their lives, learning to think of the plight of all humanity and not just that of herself and her family.
Juno is compared to other feminine archetypes as well as the Roman goddess. Boyle grumbles that she should have been called "Deirdre of the Sorras" (Deirdre of the Sorrows), a mythical figure who inadvertently caused the death of her lover and his brothers; she, like Juno, abandons her self-centered husband. Another reference compares her to Cathleen ni Houlihan, a maternal figure who has long served as a symbol of Ireland. She can even be compared to the Virgin Mary, who, like Mrs. Tancred and Juno, lost a beloved son, and whose picture hangs on the Boyles' living-room wall.
Johnny is Juno and Boyle's son. He was hit in the hip during the Easter Week rebellion, and his arm was blown off by a bomb. He is thin, delicate, and fearful. Whenever talk turns to fighting or the murder of Mrs. Tancred's son, he cannot bear to listen. It turns out that Johnny gave information that led to that murder, although they had been comrades. His lack of moral virtue can be seen not only in that act of treachery, but also in the way he turns on his sister Mary when she becomes pregnant. He is shot and killed in Act III in retaliation for his contribution to Robbie Tancred's death.
Mary is Juno and Boyle's 22-year-old daughter. While she has a job, she is on strike for the duration of the play in protest of the firing of a fellow worker. Mary is torn between the circumstances of her life pulling her back and the influence of the books she reads pushing her forward. She is attracted to Charlie Bentham, a schoolteacher whose worldliness offers an escape from her dreary life, whom she chooses over her other suitor, Jerry Devine. She is also somewhat vain, looking in mirrors and considering what ribbon to wear while her family worries about more serious matters. Mary ends up pregnant and abandoned by her fiance. Her plight reveals the character of others in the play: Juno supports her and offers to help raise the child, while the men in her life - Boyle, Johnny, Jerry, and the baby's father, Bentham - all turn from her.
Joxer is Boyle's amiable drinking companion. He is typically ingratiating to whomever he is with, even if it means contradicting himself as soon as he changes companions. Like Boyle, he avoids working, instead spending his time drinking and consorting with Boyle. Juno detests him and tries to keep him from freeloading, but he manages to nonetheless. He is a comical character and the source of many of the play's literary allusions.
Mrs. Maisie Madigan
Mrs. Maisie Madigan lives in the same tenement as the Boyle family. She is ignorant and forward but has a generous heart. The female counterpart of Joxer, she is inclined to reminisce, as we see her do about Mary's birth, her late husband, and singing at a party when she was much younger. She eagerly pawns some of her possessions to lend money to Boyle when she thinks he will be getting a legacy, but she has no sympathy for him when she realizes he will not be able to pay them back.
Needle Nugent is another neighbor in the tenement. He chastises the family for playing music while the funeral of Mrs. Tancred's son is passing the house; however, he may not have much moral ground to stand on, as Mrs. Madigan accuses him of supporting both the Republicans and the Free Staters. He makes Boyle a suit on credit, but upon visiting the solicitor's office, he finds out that the legacy is worthless and takes back the suit from Boyle's bedside.
Mrs. Tancred, another neighbor, is the mother of Robbie Tancred, the boy shot after Johnny let his ambushers know his whereabouts. She is bringing the body of her son to the church the evening that Boyle and his family celebrate the news of his legacy. She mourns not only her son's death, but also the war which pits son against son. Juno mimics Mrs. Tancred's words when Johnny is shot and undergoes a kind of spiritual growth in which she thinks beyond her own suffering.
Jerry Devine, another tenement-dweller, brings word to Boyle that Father Farrell can get him a job. He is active in the labor union and hopes to become secretary, which would earn him a good salary. Jerry is one of Mary's suitors, but she rejects him in favor of Charlie Bentham. He returns after the Boyles have lost their inheritance and proclaims his love despite her disloyalty, but he leaves when he learns that Mary is pregnant.
Charlie Bentham is a schoolteacher with sophisticated ideas, who believes in Theosophism and can give a scientific explanation for ghosts. He is now studying law and brings news of Boyle's legacy. It was he who wrote out the will for Boyle's cousin Mr. Ellison, who intended to leave his property to Boyle and his second cousin Michael Finnegan. However, due to the wording of the will, the property ends up being divided between all of Ellison's first and second cousins and the legacy is worthless. Bentham is engaged to Mary, but he abandons her after getting her pregnant once the legacy is gone.
an Irregular mobilizer
The "Mobilizer" is an officer charged with calling soldiers to action. He comes for Johnny while his family watches the funeral procession for Mrs. Tancred's son and orders him to attend a meeting, as the battalion staff suspect he may know something about Robbie Tancred's death.
Two Irregulars come for Johnny at the end of the play, foreshadowed by the extermination of the votive light under the picture of the Virgin Mary. We can see Johnny's cowardice as they drag him away; it is the last time he is seen alive.
a coal-block vendor
A coal-block vendor drops in on Boyle and Joxer as they have tea in the beginning of the play. He instigates a comic scene in which Joxer frantically tries to climb out of the window, thinking the vendor is Juno. His character is one of several which provides some comic relief to the underlying tragedy.
a sewing machine man
A sewing machine man drops in on Boyle as he cooks breakfast. He thinks the man is Juno and hurries to hide the food, since out of pride he had told Juno he wouldn't have breakfast that morning. The appearance of the sewing machine man provides some comedy as we witness Boyle's reaction.
two furniture removal men
The furniture removal men arrive at the Boyles' apartment after Boyle fails to pay the bill for two months. They add to the general confusion and foreshadow the disintegration of the Boyle family.
Two neighbors accompany Mrs. Tancred as she brings the body of her murdered son to church.
Juno and the Paycock Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Juno and the Paycock is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
O'Casey is against war, noting the exorbitant cost in terms of ordinary people's lives. Through the play, he condemns the violence of man against man, showing the effect it has on families (such as Mrs. Tancred, Juno, and Mary) and on the...