how effective is the Priest?

How much authority does the Priest have? This character enters the scene suddenly, with no particular prompting in the text. Besides his age and gender, the Priest is not physically described in detail. The reader can easily project him or herself onto this character, and that may be deliberate. The Priest is the only character who disapproves of the revelry, and angrily he asks Walsingham the questions no other character asks — 

“…Do you think [your mother] isn’t crying now,

Shedding bitter tears in Heaven itself,

To see her son caught up in reveling

At a shameless feast, to hear your voice

Singing like one possessed, amidst

Holy prayers and deep-felt sighs?” (Pushkin 103)

As readers, we can’t help but confront the same dilemma – how can Walsingham and his cohorts justifiably frolic when their loved ones and friends are falling prey to the plague? Isn’t this inherently disrespectful? Thus, the Priest can be viewed as the embodiment of society and religion’s ideals in Pushkin’s story. The Priests targets Walsingham, the leader of the group, and shames him heavily. In trying to convince Walsingham to end the partying, the Priest references Walsingham’s mother and daughter, both dead from plague. Using these characters, Pushkin constructs multiple dichotomies including authority vs. non-comformity, religion vs. sin, confrontation vs. escapism. But does the Priest’s shaming and imploring of Walsingham make a difference to any of the partygoers?


NO: The Priest is soundly shouted down by the chorus of revelers every time he speaks. They don’t want their fun trampled, and they refuse to listen to the Priest’s shaming. Walsingham in fact condemns any partygoers who agree with the Priest —

“Old man, go in peace;

But accursed may he be who follows you!” (Pushkin 103)

Furthermore, in the last stage directions of the play the Priest “exits” and “the feast continues” (Pushkin 104). One could argue that in his main purpose, shaming the revelers into ceasing their feast, the Priest was unsuccessful.


YES: The Priest makes an obvious impression on Walsingham. Despite Walsingham’s positivity and celebratory tone in the beginning of the story, after the Priest’s accusations Walsingham reveals his guilt and desire for escapism —

“I am bound here

By despair, by terrible remembrance,

By the knowledge of my lawlessness,

And by the horror of that dead emptiness

Which greets me now in my own house” (Pushkin 103

Walsingham seems to agree with the Priest. The feasting and self-indulgence is shameful, but Walsingham is too weak to cope with the death of his mother and sister in a respectful and dignified manner. He assumes and acknowledges his guilt in the presence of the Priest. Once the Priest leaves and the party resumes, Walsingham is buried in thought, clearly very affected by the Priest’s words.


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