The Bishop’s Candlesticks by Norman McKinnel is a very sensitive play which is an adaptation of a section of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. The play which is very interesting and captivating is based on the theme that love and kindness can change a man. Most people do not take up crime willingly, instead they are forced to enter the world of crime by ruthless people or circumstances beyond their control.
The play opens in the Bishop’s house. It is a cold winter night. On the mantelpiece there are two, very handsome candlesticks. They are quite out of place with the plain furnishing of the room. Marie, the maid servant, is seen stirring some soup on the fire. The Bishop’s sister Persome laying the cloth. She looks worried. It is already 11 o’clock. She wonders where, her brother, the Bishop, can be at this late hour. She asks Marie if there is any message. Marie tells her that the Bishop has gone to see her ailing mother. Persome snubs her.
Persome asks Marie if she has placed the saltcellars on the table. Marie tells her that the Bishop has sold the salt-cellars to pay the house rent of Mere Gringoire, who was being troubled by the bailiff. Persome curses the old lady. She laments that in this way the Bishop would sell everything. He has already sold many of his belongings to help others.
The Bishop enters. He tells Marie that her mother is feeling better now It is very cold outside. So he gives his comforter to Marie and asks her to go home. Persome is angry with the Bishop. She says that every clever person will dupe him. She also says that he would give away every-thing. The Bishop says that there is so much suffering in the world and he can do so little.
Persome taunts that one day he would sell the candlesticks also. But the Bishop assures her that he would never sell them as they are the symbol of love of his mother. However, in the very next breath he feels bad to set such store by them.
The arrival of the convict it is midnight. Persome goes to bed. The Bishop settles to read. Then a convict enters with a long knife in his hand. He threatens to kill the Bishop if he tries to call out. The convict demands food. The Bishop assures him that he shall have food. He calls Persome to open the cupboard. Persome comes. She is scared to see the knife in the convict’s hand as he looks like a wild beast. The Bishop consoles her and takes the keys of the cupboard from her. Then he serves the convict cold pie, wine and bread. The convict eats greedily as he has not eaten anything for three days.
After taking the food, the convict feels relaxed. He tells the Bishop that he has lived in Hell for ten years. When the Bishop urges him to tell more the convict narrates the circumstances under which he reached that Hell. Once be had a lovely wife and a home. His wife was ill and they had no food. He could get no work. His wife, Jeanette, was dying. So he stole money to buy food for her. But he was caught and sentenced to ten year imprisonment. The jailor told him that his wife had died the night he was sentenced.
In prison he was beaten mercilessly. He was chained up like a wild beast and beaten like a hound. He was fed on filth and was covered with vermin. He slept on boards and complained, but he was beaten more. One day they forgot to chain him and he escaped. They took away his name and gave him only a number. After his escape from prison, he has been wandering from pillar to post. Nobody is ready to provide him food and shelter.
The Bishop is deeply moved to hear the convict’s story. He tells the convict that he has suffered a lot, yet there is hope for him. Then he tells the convict to sleep in the room for the night and assures him that no one will disturb him. Saying this, the Bishop goes inside to bring covering for him.
The convict looks at the candlesticks. He takes them down from the mantelpiece. He finds that they are quite heavy and made of pure silver. On his return, the Bishop notices the candlesticks in his hands. He tells the convict that they are a parting gift from his dying mother. He bids the convict good night and goes to sleep. In his absence, the convict stuffs the candlesticks in his coat and escapes.
Next morning Persome finds the candlesticks missing. She raises a hue and cry. She wakes up the Bishop also. The Bishop also regrets the loss of the candlesticks. Persome wants the Bishop to inform the police. But the Bishop does not want the convict to be sent back to prison again. He says that it was a sin that he set too great store by them. Persome insists on informing the police. Then the Bishop instructs her not to do so.
Just then a Sergeant enters with three policemen and the convict bound. The sergeant says that the convict was going along the road suspiciously. On searching him they found the candlesticks on his person. He remembered that the candlesticks belonged to the Bishop. So they brought them to him.
The Bishop looks at the convict. The convict looks at him defiantly. The Bishop tells the sergeant that the gentleman he has brought is his very good friend. He honored him to dine with him last night and he himself gave him those candlesticks. The sergeant accepts this explanation with a bit of difficulty and goes out after releasing the prisoner.
The convict is now a changed man. He is shamefaced. Persome accuses him of devilry. The Bishop asks him to sleep. But the convict says that he must get to Paris by traveling at night. He admits that he didn’t believe there was any good in the world, but it was still there. When the convict is about to go, the Bishop gives him the candlesticks saying that these might help him. He even tells him a safe passage to Paris.
Now the convict is overwhelmed with remorse. He sobs and says that the Bishop has made him feel to be another man now. He feels that he is a man now and not a wild beast. As a parting advice, the Bishop tells the convict to remember that this poor body is the temple of the living God. The convict assures him to remember that.