Norman Mckinnel (1870-1932), The Bishop's Candlesticks

The Bishop's Candlesticks / Source

The one-act play has a suspenseful overtone. The stage direction dramatically turns up and meshes with the beginning, middle and the end. The characters, being meddled in conflict, evoke a sense of moral rehabilitation. The Bishop becomes a privileged spectator of the blindfolded Convict's inner reality. The definable presence of benediction is that mute that the Convict gets rid of his heart of darkness finally.

The play follows the famous novel of French novelist Victor Hugo, Les Miserables (1862).

There we find the story of the encounter of Jean Valjean, a convict, with the Bishop Monseigneur Bien Venu (the name means welcome).


The Bishop is a humane human being. He thinks good, acts better, and gains the best. He reaches the heart of everyone and tries to crack the questions of both mortal and moral survival. He is sensible like a candlestick, which helps a candle stand vertically on its own leg. His famous speeches are - "It is worth going out in the cold for the sake of the comfort of coming in" / "Always remember, my son, that this poor body is the Temple of the Living God." To the Bishop, if people lie, they are poorer, not is he.

Persome, the Bishop's widow sister wears a chemise of egotism. She feels that everyone double-crosses her altruistic brother. Hence, she will not have his goodness abused. Having been spread with cynic snobbism, she fosters both love and envy for little Marie. She is hopefully found in - "Oh, mon Dieu! It is hopeless, hopeless. We shall have nothing left."

Marie is a near-nonchalant character. She is too little to use tough tongue. She has a blase disposition. She is like a clock that always works and gains nothing except a few blissful Christian touches from her master. Her mother is sickly and therefore is flat on her back. She runs through a running misery of stark poverty.

The Convict, an escaped prisoner, climbs the ladder of salvation. The world knows him by his blacklisted registration number, 15728. His moving utterance, "Look here, I was man once. I'm a beast now..." touches the core of even a hard heart. He is but an exhausted traveller - a guest de facto, to the Bishop. Touched upon with the celestial touches of the Bishop, he discovers his sanity and badly wants to strip himself of stealing and larceny. He is like a hungry stone, hungry of food, love, and blessings. He once committed the crime of breaching the ever-unsolvable misery to save his wife from the clutches of death, and received the paramount punishment of love accordingly.

About the playwright 

Norman Mckinnel mastered the art of writing stageable one-act plays. He used to rub his piously contaminated characters with the rubber of Christian spiritualism. Crime and punishment was his hallmark. He fathered only three plays, among them shines The Bishop's Candlesticks. He played the role of the Convict on 24 August 1901 in the Duke of the York's Theatre. The play was first put to stage performance on the same date.

The psychological relation between the Bishop and the Convict

There is an impressive muteness in the character of Bishop. He becomes a privileged spectator of the blindfolded Convict's inner reality. The Convict shortly loses his self-control and deals like a lunatic with the Bishop. As soon as the play progresses, the Bishop soaks the Convict's throat with wine and his mind, with benediction and love.

The convict-cum-customer takes the candlesticks at the rate of fallibility. Though the Convict takes pride in saying, "I'm too old a bird to be caught with chaff", the definite and definitive presence of benediction leads him to get rid of his heart of darkness. His love for his dead wife is not a sentimental pretence but an idea - something he can bow down before and offer a sacrifice to. In an infinite desolation, the Convict revitalizes the state of being a widower and tells that he is still inseparable with his dead wife.

The touch of the Bishop removes the moral defeat of the Convict and helps him summarize the resonance of moral dignity. Being a jailbird, the Convict is legally incapable of facing the daylight.

With the Convict's purgation the play soars the climax and touches the sublime, and as a playwright, Norman Mckinnel wins every post.


Anonymous said...

I am playing Persome in a one act play... any suggestions on how to act and what tone i ought to use?

Dibakar Sarkar said...

Dear Anonymous,

I went through your quest carefully. Before I open my mind, I'd like to know (i) whether you belong to your prime or are middle-aged, (ii) whether you possess a normal voice or a lilting one. I also feel a pull towards (iii) your thinking about the role you're going to enact. It will give me a dramatic force to zoom in my view thereafter.

Awaiting your email...

Anonymous said...

I want the moral of the play "The Bishop's Candlesticks".
Please send it to

Anonymous said...

I want the moral of the play, "The Bishop's candlesticks". Pl. send it to

Subrata said...

how do we know that persome is a widow?

Subrata said...


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