Character of Bishop in Norman McKinnel’s One Act Play “The Bishop’s Candlesticks”


Introduction: The one-act play “The Bishop’s Candlesticks” is McKinnel’s adaptation of the opening chapter of Victor Hugo’s celebrated novel Les Miserable. The play is based on the concept that no man is a born offender. It is the embodiment of a true Christian. The Bishop has all the virtues which a bishop ought to have −− he is selfless, kind, generous and charitable. He has a childlike innocence and does not understand any ‘dupe’. His absolute faith in God has made him fearless. The convict’s treats to kill him fail to unnerve him. He hates sin but loves sinners. The way he restores the convict’s faith in Christianity is remarkable. Even the convict recognizes his goodness towards the end of theplay, “… but somehow I −− I … know you are good…” He is the most adorable character in the play. No wonder person calls him the best man in the whole of France. 

Love and Compassion: The play dramatically depicts how the love and the compassion of the Bishop brought about a change of heart in a convict and turned him into a man of promise for a good life. The Bishop was a kind-hearted man who followed the teachings of Jesus Christ in the true spirit. Besides being a true Christian he was also an ardent humanist. He was ready to sacrifice everything to help the needy people. Even after selling all, he had, for others, he felt sorry that he could do so little whereas the world had so much suffering. He sold his saltcellars and gave the money to Mere Gringoire so that the latter might pay his rent to the bailiff. His sister. Persome was how ever a worldly woman, neither as self-less as her brother nor so noble. She did not like her brother to live for others and not for himself. She thought that people took an unfair advantage of his charitable nature. But the Bishop thought that if the people pretended to be in distressed and deceived him, then they are the poorer in spirit and not he. His door was never shut and it was opened for everybody.
A man is what we think him to be: One night when the Bishop was about to go to bed, a convict entered the house. At the point of his knife he demanded food from the Bishop. The Bishop was unruffled. He called Persome and asked her to give some supper to the convict. The convict wondered why the Bishop kept his doors and windows open and whether or not he was afraid of thieves and robbers. The Bishop told them that he was not afraid but that he was sorry for them, as they were only poor sufferers. He treated the convict with all love and respect as he regarded him too as a sufferer. He regarded him as a fellowman and a friend. His attitude had some effect on the convict. If we treat a man as a beast, then he becomes a beast. If we treat a beast as a man then it becomes a man. A man is what we think him to be.

Society with its Wrong Attitude: The convict told the Bishop how he was caught by the police while he stole some food for his ill and starving wife. He was caught and sentenced to ten years in prison. The authorities did not pat any heed to the fact that he had stolen only to feed his ill and starving wife, Jeanette. They regarded him as a born criminal and treated him like a beast for ten years. Then one day he escaped but the society treated him no better. As he was a prisoner, nobody would give him any job. The police hunted him down. He was running away from them starving. So he stole again for food. Thus, society with its wrong attitude, did not give him a chance to lead a good life. Then he entered the house of the Bishop as he was hungry.

Silver Candlesticks Stolen: The kind Bishop was touched and gave him a bed to sleep on. The Bishop went to sleep. Left alone on his bed, the convict could not resist the temptation to steal the silver candlesticks of the Bishop. He took them and went out of the house. As he went out, the door slammed. Persome got up at the sound and found out that the convict had stolen the silver candlesticks and had gone away. The Bishop was sorry to lose the candlesticks as they were given to him by his mother. But like a true Christian, he felt that he was responsible for the convict’s behaviour. By keeping them before him, he had led him into temptation. The Bishop thought that he used to value the candlesticks very highly. It is a sin to get addicted to wealth. Lastly, the candlesticks might be of some use to the convict and what had happened had happened for the good.

Overwhelmed by the Love of the Bishop: But the convict was arrested by the gendarmes along with the candlesticks. They recognized the candlesticks of the Bishop and brought him back to him. But the Bishop told that the accused was his friend and that he himself had given the candlesticks to him. The police sergeant released the convict and went away. The convict was overwhelmed by the love of the Bishop and now he is convinced that the Bishop was kind and loving. He regained his faith that there can be goodness in men. He was sorry that he had stolen the candlesticks. He felt that he was once again a human being and not a beast. The kind Bishop told him of the secret road to Paris and gave him the candlesticks. He asked him to remember that the body of man is the temple of God. The convict was already a changed man and he promised to remember the Bishops’ last words and he went away.

Conclusion: The Bishop is a very noble person, who is always ready to help anyone in distress. The doors of his house are always open. But his sister Persome is materialistic. She feels that the simplicity and nobility of the bishop is misused by the people. He is often cheated and taken undue advantage of. Mere Gringoire, the old women who lives on the top of the hill and does no work made such a fool of the bishop by making him sell his silver salt cellars to pay her rent. It is the circumstances that force
convict to be so. Punishment or conviction is not the way to reform an offender or a convict. It is charity, faith, hope, sympathy and forgiveness that are needed to regain the ‘lost soul’in a man. In the play the convict says to the Bishop, ‘I was a man.Now I’m not a man,’ but upto the end, he says you have made me feel that it is just as if something had come into me-as if I were a man again and not a wild beast.’ The final message is in the words, ‘This poor body is the temple of the Living God.The bishop succeeds in reforming the hardened convict and tells him that the human heart is the abode of God.

  Ardhendu De  
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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

"Dear Readers/ Students, I am a huge fan of books, English Grammar & Literature. I write this blog to instill that passion in you." 

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