CAPTAIN BOYLE is "Captain" by virtue of a single trip made as a seaman on a collier bound from London to Liverpool. He is usually known to his neighbors, however, as the "paycock" on account of his strutting, consequential gait. He is a worthless toper and idler, but withal, possesses a certain rough eloquence of expression. He and his crony, Joxer, spend most of their time drinking in "pubs" or playing cards in the Boyle flat, where Joxer flatters him to his face and steals from behind his back. Boyle has nicknamed his wife "Juno" because she "was born and christened in June. I met her in June; we were married in June an' Johnny was born in June."
The son, Johnny, is a cripple and practically a nervous wreck due to a bullet received in the Easter Week Rebellion of 1916. His nervousness and irritability increase almost to mania when he learns through a newspaper that one of his former "Die-hard" comrades, Bobbie Tancred, has been killed because of information that Johnny has given the authorities.
The daughter, Mary, through reading has acquired a taste for better things, and longs for a different sort of life. She has discarded one suitor, Jerry Devine, a trades-union organizer, in favor of slick young Charles Bentham, a school teacher and law student. This, she feels, may be a step toward realizing her ambitions. Bentham tells the family that they are about to inherit a legacy from a relative. There can be no doubt about it, because he himself has drawn the will.
On the strength of their expectations, the Boyle family goes on a spending spree. The borrow from their neighbors and stretch their credit with the local tradesmen to the uttermost limit. Two months later both the Boyles and their creditors learn that the legacy is uncollectible due to Bentham's clumsiness in drafting the will. Thenceforward Bentham loses his interest in Mary, although she is shortly to bear his child. As if all this were not tragedy enough, the Irregular Mobilizers learn of Johnny's part in Bobbie Tancred's death and hurry him off to his doom for betrayal of a comrade. An hour later Mrs. Boyle is summoned by police to identify her son's body.
Through it all the Paycock and his friend Joxer remain gloriously drunk, and it is the Paycock who speaks the final words of the play: "The whole world's in a terrible state of chaos."
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