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11_THE BISHOP’S CANDELSTICKS

 

Summary

  • “The Bishop’s Candlesticks” by Norman Mckinell is a dramatic adaptation of a few chapters by Victor Hugo’s classic novel “Les Miserables” (The Miserables) which brings out an individual’s miserable plight in the hands of cruel agents of law and his eventual liberation due to the intervention of a noble soul.
  • The play is based on the theme that love and kindness can change a man rather than violence.
  • The play is about a convict who breaks into the Bishop’s house and is clothed and warmed.
  • The benevolence of the Bishop somewhat softens the convict, but, when he sees the silver Candlesticks, he steals them.
  • He is captured and brought back.
  • He expects to go back to jail, but the Bishop informs the police they are a gift.
  • This act of the Bishop reforms the convict to believe in the spirit of God, that dwells in the heart of every human being.
  • The play is set in the house of the Bishop on a cold winter night.
  • On the mantelpiece are two handsome Candlesticks quite out of place with the plain furnishings of the room.
  • Marie, the maid, is busy stirring the soup on the fire and Persome, the Bishop’s sister, is laying the table and keeping an eye on the soup being cooked by Marie.
  • Persome is worried as it is already past 11 O’clock and her brother has not yet returned.
  • Marie tells her that the Bishop has gone to see her ailing mother.
  • This angers Persome who feels that most people take advantage of her innocent brother who is always eager to help the poor and the needy.
  • While the table is being laid for dinner, Persome asks Marie if she has placed the salt-cellars on the table. Marie tells her that the Bishop had sold the salt-cellars to pay the house rent of Mere Gringoire who was being troubled by the bailiff. Persome curses the old lady for taking advantage of her brother, lamenting that in this way the Bishop, who has already sold many of his belongings to help others, would sell everything.

 

  • The Bishop enters the cottage and informs Marie that her mother was better. He gives her his comforter and asks her to go home since it was very cold. Persome, who has been crying, gets very angry with the Bishop. When Marie leaves, she tells him that people lie to him to get help from him. The Bishop regrets that there is so much suffering in the world and so little that he can do.
  • To show her anger and resentment over his selling her salt-cellars, Persome taunts the Bishop that one day he would sell the candlesticks also. The Bishop assures her that he would never sell the candlesticks, as they were given to him by his dying mother and are a token of her memory. However, in the next breath he feels bad to set such store by them.
  • As it is midnight, Persome goes off to bed and the Bishop sits down to read. Suddenly, a runway convict with a long knife in his hand enters the room. He threatens to kill the Bishop if he tries to call out and demands food. The Bishop greets him lovingly and assures him that he shall have food. He calls Persome to open the cupboard. Persome is scared to see the convict with the knife in his hand but the Bishop reassures her and takes the keys of the cupboard from her. He then serves the convict cold pie, wine, and bread.
  • After having his fill, the convict feels relaxed. He tells the Bishop he has lived in Hell for ten years. He narrates the circumstances under which he was imprisoned. Once he, too, had a lovely wife and a home. His wife, Jeanette, was ill and dying and there was no food. He could not get work. So he stole money to buy food for her. He was caught and sentenced to ten years in prison. The jailor told him that his wife had died the night he was sentenced.
  • The convict recounts his suffering in the prison. The jailor took away his name and only gave him a number. One day, they forgot to chain him and he escaped. After his escape from prison, he had been wondering from pillar to post without food and shelter, pursed by the gendarmes.
  • The Bishop is moved on hearing his story. He consoles the convict and tells him that although he has suffered a great deal yet there his hope for him. Then he asks the convict to sleep in his house and assures that no harm would come to him. Saying this, the Bishop goes inside to bring him a coverlet.
  • The convict happens to see the candlesticks on the mantelpiece. He takes them down and finds that they’re quite heavy and made of pure silver. On his return, the Bishop finds the candlesticks in the convict’s hands. He tells the convict that they’re a parting gift from his mother. He bids the convict good night and goes to bed.
  • The convict decides to steal the candlesticks and use them to start a new life. He does think of the Bishop’s kindness but hardens his heart, stuff the candlesticks in his pocket, and escapes.
  • Persome wakes up on hearing the noise and rushes downstairs. She finds the candlesticks missing and raises a hue and cry. She wakes up the Bishop and informs him of the theft. The Bishop regrets the loss of the candlesticks but refuses to call in the police, as he doesn’t want the convict to be sent back to the prison once again to suffer.
  • Just then a sergeant enters the cottage with the convict led by three constables. He tells the Bishop about the circumstances under which he caught the thief. He had been moving along the roads suspiciously. On searching him, they found the candlesticks on his person. The sergeant remembered that they belonged to the Bishop, so he arrested the thief and brought him there.
  • The Bishop tells the sergeant that the gentleman he had brought was his good friend and he himself had given the candlesticks to him that night. The sergeant finds it difficult to accept this explanation. However, he releases the prisoner and goes out.
  • The convict is now a changed man. He is overwhelmed with remorse. He begs forgiveness from the Bishop. The Bishop has made him feel that he was a man again and not a beast. He asks his permission to go to Paris. The Bishop gives him the candlesticks saying that they might help him and tells him of a safe route to Paris. As a parting advice, he tells the convict to remember that the body is a Temple of the Living God. The convict assures him he would remember that all his life.

 

 

Questions & Answers

 

Q.1    What is the theme of the play “The Bishop’s Candlesticks”?

Ans.   The play deals with the redemption of a soul through love and forgiveness. The convict, who was sent to the prison ships for stealing money to buy food for his sick wife, was inhumanly treated. He was chained and lashed with whips. This inhuman treatment turned the man into a beast who was ready to steal and kill. The kind-hearted and benevolent Bishop, always ready to lend a helping hand to any one in distress, softened the convict’s heart. His love and compassion turned the beast into a man again. Touched by the Bishop’s forgiveness, the convict sought his blessings. Thus, the play also brings the message that the aim of punishment should be reformation of the wrongdoer through making him realize his guilt and not turning a law-abiding citizen into a criminal.

 

Q.2    The convict says, “They have made me what I am, they have made me a thief”. Explain the circumstances that made the convict a thief. 

Ans.   Ten years ago, the convict lived in a small cottage with his wife, Jeanette. His wife fell seriously ill. At that time the convict was without a job. Jeanette needed food and medicine. So he stole money to buy her food. He was caught and sent to the prison ships. Here he was treated very badly. He was chained and lashed with whips. He was treated not as a human being but as an animal. His name and soul were taken away from him. This inhuman treatment changed the man into a beast.

 

Q.3    The Bishop’s sister is more practical than him. Discuss the character of Persome as seen in the play.

Ans.   Persome, the Bishop’s sister, is a short-tempered person. She rebukes Marie and calls her a “nincompoop”. She seems to be hard and unfeeling and is angry when the Bishop puts his comforter around Marie before she goes out into the cold night.

          A haughty woman, Persome is angry with old Mere Gringoire and calls her an old witch. Mere Gringoire, too, is afraid of her temper.

She loves her brother and is very protective of him. She feels people take advantage of his goodness of heart and abuse his generosity. She worries about him when he is out late. Most of her faults are born out of her love and concern for her brother.

Being a timid person, Persome is afraid of the convict, but at her brother’s bidding she gives him food. Persome is a materialistic person. She is upset with her brother for selling the silver salt cellar and as soon as she discovers the candlesticks are missing, she wishes to inform the police.

 

Q.4    Who is Mere Gringoire and why is she in distress? How does the Bishop help her?

Ans.   Mere Gringoire is an old ailing bed-ridden woman who is in distress because she is unable to pay her house rent. The bailiff’s threat to throw her out of the house and render her homeless if she does not pay the rent that day worries her.

          The Bishop helps her by paying the rent after selling off the silver salt-cellars.

Q.5    What does Persome think of the needy and poor people?

Ans.   Persome does not think well of the poor and needy. She calls her maid Marie a nincompoop, incapable of doing anything correctly, Mere Gringoire a witch and the convict a scoundrel and villain. She feels that the so called poor and needy people are actually greedy and want to dupe her honest, innocent brother. According to her, these good-for-nothing people pretend to be ill to have the Bishop call on them.

 

Q.6    Why does Persome call her brother ‘a child’?

Ans.   Persome calls her brother Bishop a ‘child’ because she feels that he is as simple, innocent and gullible as a child who is easily taken in by others. He has no ill-will against any one and is always ready to help others. His childlike extravagance and carelessness makes him neglect himself and thus he needs to be looked after like a child.

 

Q.7    Why does Persome feel the people pretend to be sick?

Ans.   It is Persome’s mean mentality and suspicious nature that promptsher to feel that people just pretended to be sick. Devoid of compassion and a sympathetic attitude, she eyed every one with suspicion. She went to the extent by thinking that they put up the pretence to have the Bishop around them and exploit his generosity.

 

Q.8    Why were the silver candlesticks precious to the Bishop? What assurance does he give to his sister about keeping them safe?

Ans.   The Bishop treats the silver candlesticks as a prized possession because they were given to him by his dying mother as a token of her remembrance. The Bishop and his sister, Persome regarded them as priceless treasures and could never think of parting with them. The Bishop assured his sister that he would always guard the silver candlesticks and keep them safe.

 

Q.9    The convict says, ‘I am too old, a bird to be caught with chaff’. What does he mean by the statement?

Ans.   The convict means that he was too smart to be duped by the Bishop with nice, gentle talk. When the Bishop called Persome to open the cupboard to feed the convict, he thought that the Bishop was trying to trap him so that he could hand him over to the police. So he made it clear that he was too experienced to be befooled with his cooked up stories.

 

Q.10  ‘…… now I’m a number, number 15729 and I’ve lived in Hell for ten years,’ says the convict. What is the ‘Hell’ he refers to and how did he reach there?

Ans.   The ‘Hell’ that the convict refers to here is the jail where he was imprisoned for ten years for a petty crime. Poverty-stricken and unemployed as he was, he had to steal some money to buy food for his ailing wife. This crime of his landed him in prison, where he was treated so cruelly that he called it a Hell.

 

Q.11  Why was the convict sent to the prison?

Ans.   The year the convict was sent to the prison hulks for the first time was a very bad year for him. His wife Jeanette was ill and dying. Being out of work, he stole money to buy her food and was caught by the police. He pleaded with the policemen and tried to explain why he had stolen but instead of trying to understand him, they ridiculed him. He was sentenced to ten years in the prison hulks.

 

Q.12  How was the convict treated once he was in the prison?

Or

          What effect did the inhuman treatment in the jail have on the convict?

Or

          What was the punishment given to the convict?

Ans.   The convict was put behind the bars for stealing a small amount of money to buy food for his ailing wife, Jeanette. After being given a number – 15729, he was chained like a wild animal and lashed like a bound. He was fed on filth covered with vermin; he was made to sleep on hard boards. If he complained he was lashed again. From a sensitive human being he changed into a wild beast devoid of all emotion.

 

Q.13  Who was Jeanette? What was the cause of her death?

Ans.   Jeanete was the convict’s wife. She died of sickness and starvation. Her husband was too poor to buy her food and medicine. He stole a meagre amount for food, for which he was arrested. Thus Jeanette died in loneliness, want and misery.

 

Q.14  Why does the convict tell the Bishop that he should not try to save his soul?

Ans.   The convict tell the Bishop that he should not try to save his soul  because circumstances have made him insensitive and heartless. Now he doesn’t mind stooping to any level and he doesn’t feel the need of reforming himself.

 

Q.15  Why does the Bishop refer to the convict as his ‘friend’ when the Sergeant brings him in?

Ans.   Having been arrested by the Sergeant, the Bishop could see that if not helped, the convict would be once again thrown behind the bars and he would never get another chance in life to reform himself. Hence, he promptly came to his rescue by not only claiming that the convict was his good friend but also adding that he had himself gifted the candlesticks to him.

 

Q.16  Why doesn’t the Bishop claim his candlesticks?

Ans.   The Bishop does not claim his candlesticks because he feels that he has been robbed of them as a punishment for the sin of being excessively attached to them. Moreover, claiming the candlesticks would mean another spell of imprisonment for the convict, which the Bishop didn’t want to happen at all.

 

Q.17  Why does the Bishop allow the convict to take away the candlesticks and          escape to Paris?

Ans.   The Bishop finally allows the convict to take away the candlesticks and escape to Paris because of his benevolent nature. He tries to reform the convict and provide him an opportunity to start life afresh by giving away the prized candlesticks. He does not wish the convict to go back to prison and live a life of an animal.

 

Q.18  Before leaving, the convict asks the Bishop to bless him? What brought about this change in him?

Ans.   The Bishop’s kind-heartedness, generosity and compassion revived the convict’s faith in church, religion and life itself. He saw for himself a chance for reformation. The urge to once again become a man from a beast stirred his heart. Having undergone this change of attitude he asked the Bishop to bless him before leaving.

 

Q.19  Which offer of the Bishop does the convict refuse? Why?

Ans.   The convict refuses the offer of the Bishop to sleep in his house for the night. He turns down the offer because he is ashamed of having betrayed the faith of Bishop. Moreover, he wished to reach Paris and get lost in the maddening rush where he won’t be caught. He can do the travelling only at night to escape the police.

 

Q.20  How did the Bishop make the convict a man again?

Ans.   The Bishop called the convict a friend and treated him with love and compassion. He listened to the convict’s tale of suffering with sympathy and comforted him with food, shelter, empathy and prayer. He saved the convict from the police and gave his prized silver candlesticks so that he could begin life all over again. Not only that he told him about the safe passage that would lead him to Paris without being detected.

 

Q.21  For what purpose is the incident of the salt-cellars introduced in the play “The Bishop’s Candlesticks”?

Ans.   The incident of the salt-cellars is introduced in the play to bring out the Bishop’s kindness, generosity and charitable nature and to show that the Bishop is an epitome of the good that Christianity and the Church stand for. Unable to bear the sufferings of the bed-ridden Mere Gringoire he helps her by selling his silver salt-cellars. The salt-cellars, thus are instrumental in bringing out his all embracing character and his selflessness.

 

Q.22  Briefly compare the character of the Bishop with that of his sister, Persome.

Ans.   The Bishop is a kind-hearted person who is concerned about the sufferings, want, hunger and disease prevailing all around. He hates the sin, not the sinner and believes that it is love and compassion – not violence and hatred – that can change a man for the better. Persome, on the other hand, is short-tempered and rude and is insensitive to other people’s needs and sufferings. She does not like the philanthropic attitude of her brother. The character of Persome presents a sharp contrast to that of her brother, whose generosity and selflessness reflect upon the nobility of his soul.

 

WORKSHEET

Short Answer Questions

 

  1. Who is Mere Gringoire and why is she in distress?

 

  1. What does Persome think of poor people?

 

  1. How does Persome react when she sees the convict?

 

  1. Why were the silver candlesticks precious to Bishop?

 

  1. Write a note on the relationship of Persome and the Bishop.

 

  1. What opinion does Persome have of the Bishop as: (i) her brother (ii) a Bishop?

 

  1. Briefly describe the circumstances which led the convict to the prison hulks for the first time?

 

  1. What effect did the inhuman treatment in the jail have on the convict?

 

  1. How is the convict arrested by the French soldiers?

 

  1. In the presence of the Sergeant why does the Bishop refer to the convict as his friend?

 

  1. The convict at first says, ‘I don’t want any damned religion’. Later he wants the Bishop to bless him. Why?

 

  1. Do you think the convict is right in holding society responsible for his present state?

 

  1. ‘Persome is a very good sister but not a very good follower of her religion’. Do you agree? Give reasons in support of your answer.

 

  1. What role do the silver candlesticks play in “The Bishop’s Candlesticks”?

 

  1. Justify the title, “The Bishop’s Candlesticks”.

 

  1. What is the turning point in the convict’s life that reforms him?

 

  1. “The Bishop heals a tormented soul and shows him the path of God and righteousness”. Comment.

 

  1. What is the theme of the play, “The Bishop’s Candlesticks”?

 

  1. Write a short character sketch of: • the Convict • Bishop     • Persome

 

 

Long Answer Questions

 

  1. Justice is flawed if it is not mingled with mercy and hope. Discuss on the basis of your understanding of the play “The Bishop’s Candlesticks”.

 

  1. Kindness, benevolence and charity still exist in this world. Do you agree/disagree? Discuss in the light of the play “The Bishop’s Candlesticks.”

 

  1. A convict is never born but made by the stringent laws of the high society. Describe your views in the form of an article giving examples.

 

  1. Do you sympathize with the convict? Why / Why not? Do you agree that love and kindness can reform hardened criminals?

 

  1. Suppose you are the convict. When you left the Bishop’s house with silver candlesticks in your pocket you were a different man. You had lost all your bitterness and forgotten all your miseries. Write a diary page discussing your state of mind and how you’ve regained faith in humanity.

 

  1. Drawing inspiration from the transformation of the convict through Bishop’s benevolence, sacrifice and charity, write an article for your school magazine highlighting the changes these values can bring in the society.

 

  1. “…I was, sentenced to ten years in the prison hulks, ten years in Hell.”

“They chained me up like a wild animal, they lashed me like a hound. I fed on filth…..”

“For ten years, ten years. Oh God! They took away my name, they took away my soul….”

The stirring words of the convict reveal the inhuman treatment and the violence prisoners are subjected to in prison houses. Write a letter to the editor of a leading newspaper, The Times of India focussing on the need of rehabilitation of prisoners with mercy and compassion.

 

  1. Describe some of the values one can observe in the character of the Bishop. How far do you think these values can be practised in practical life?

 

  1. Here are some statements that the Bishop makes in the play.

“ I would like to keep them (the candlesticks); but perhaps it is a sin to set such store by them”.

“ They (the candlesticks) would pay somebody’s rent. It was kind of her (Persome) to think of that”.

“No, Persome: It’s a just punishment for me; I set too great store by them. It was a sin”.

 

On the basis of your understanding of these statements of the Bishop, analyse the following:

–        Why does the Bishop think he ‘set too great store by’ the candlesticks?

–        What is ‘sin’ according to the Bishop ? What is your definition of ‘sin’?

–        Persome unwittingly gives her brother, the Bishop, an excellent idea of doing some ‘good’ to the poor and needy. How ?

If you were the Bishop, would you have given away the candlesticks the way they are given away in the play? Why/Why not?

 

  1. Here is a statement that the convict makes in the play, “The Bishop’s Candlesticks”.

“They caught me. I pleaded to them, I told them why I stole but they laughed at me, and I was sentenced toten years in the prison hulks, ten years in Hell.

On the basis of your understanding of the statement, analyse the following:

–        Was the convict justified in stealing to buy food for his ailing wife?

–        Do you think the police or the judge or the prison authorities should have understood the convict’s reasons for turning into a criminal and pardoned him instead of punishing him ?

–        Do you think ten long years’ punishment is much too harsh for a crime like stealing? Give reasons in support of your views.

 

  1. Read the following conversation between the Bishop and the convict.

Bishop: Stay, my son, you have forgotten your property (giving him the candlesticks)

Convict: You mean me -you want me to take them?

Bishop: Please; they may help you. (The Convict takes the candlesticks in absolute amazement) And, myson, there is a path through the woods at the back of this cottage which leads to Paris; it is a very lonely pathand I have noticed that my good friends the gendarmes do not like lonely paths at night. It is curious.

On the basis of your understanding of the conversation, analyse the following:

–        What makes the Bishop give the candlesticks to the convict? Would you have done the same had you been the Bishop? Why? Why not?

–        Do you think the convict should have accepted the candlesticks? Why? Why not?

–        Why do you think the Bishop suggests a very lonely path to the convict ?

–        What values can we learn from the conduct of the Bishop here ?

Do you think the Bishop’s way of reforming the convict is the right way to reform criminals? Why/Why not?

 

  1. Imagine that you are the Bishop. Draft a short speech to be delivered, as part of your daily sermon, relating an encounter you had with a convict.

In your speech you should

  • describe how you tried to help a man reform himself
  • explain how the man had lost faith in God and he was able to regain it
  • emphasize that the body is the Temple of the Living God.

 

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