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A work of historical fiction, Twain's The Prince and the Pauper is also a social satire of England's monarchy and its medieval period as well as the broader criticism of superficial judgments by appearances and by a dogmatic belief system.
While it is an entertaining story of the coincidental meeting of two boys similar in appearance but at each end of the social system of Medieval England who exchange places in order to experience the other's life, there is a much deeper significance to this exchange. Thus, the comedy of such incidences as that of Edward's father, King Henry VIII's rationalization that the boy that he mistakes as his son is not insane because, even though Tom begs to be released to return home to the slums of London--"the kennel where I was born and bred to misery"--when he asks the boy a question in Latin, Tom replies appropriately. The King addresses the royal physician,
"'Twas not according to his schooling and ability, but sheweth that his mind is but diseased, not strick fatally, How say you sir?"
The physician addressed bowed low, and replied,
"It jumpeth with mine own conviction, sire, that thou hast divined aright."
Of course, the physician feels compelled to agree with the king who could easily order his head removed, just as Tom, having been cautioned by Lord Hertford that "The king's will is law," must respond positively when Henry VIII asks him, "Am I not thy loving father?"
Much like the motif of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird that one never really understands a person "until you climb into his skin and walk around in it," Prince Edward literally does this and experiences the trials of those that are his subjects, many of which are humorously satirical of England's society at the time. As a result, he becomes more compassionate and when returned to his sovereign role, he enacted that made his reign "a singularly merciful one for those harsh times." Thus, The Prince and the Pauper is a work of subtle social satire, whose rich comedy is undercut by the darkness of the motifs of the injustice and cruelty of Tudor England.
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