Juno and the Paycock

Juno and the Paycock Irish Theatre

Juno and the Paycock was the second of O'Casey's plays to be performed at the Abbey Theatre, the national theater of Ireland. The theatre had been founded just twenty years earlier by a group of artists including Nobel laureate W. B. Yeats and dramatist Lady Augusta Gregory. It was established during the Irish Literary Revival, a flowering of literary talent coinciding with an increased interest in Irish language, heritage, and culture.

Unlike many theaters, whose purpose is primarily to entertain the audience, the Abbey Theatre sought to educate playgoers and to inspire a sense of national and cultural identity. A notice entitled "Advice to playwrights" encouraged authors to include in their works some criticism or vision of Irish life based on personal experience or observation. Ireland's break with England in 1921 and the ensuing civil war increased the importance of this goal.

Since language was an important marker of cultural identity, Yeats emphasized the use of Irish dialect in theater, particularly that of peasants. O'Casey's admirable reproduction of Irish speech thus directly supports the mission of the theater.

The Abbey Theatre also sought to use drama to portray a positive image of Ireland. Under British colonialism, much English literature perpetuated negative stereotypes of the Irish. Irish theater thus urged writers to present plays glorifying the culture and past heroism or connecting drama and contemporary political events. O'Casey's plays, though set in the urban slums and depicting the dehumanizing effects of poverty and violence, nonetheless show the heroism of ordinary people such as Juno while making much use of allusions from Ireland's rich literary tradition.

The international success of Irish playwrights such as O'Casey helped to both present Irish culture to the world undistorted by colonialism and to spread awareness of the Irish cause.