The Prisoner of Zenda Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

To his sister-in-law, Lady Rose Burlesdon, Rudolf Rassendyll is a great disappointment. In the first place, he is twenty-nine years old and has no useful occupation. Second, he bears such a striking resemblance to the Elphbergs, the ruling house of Ruritania, that for Rose he is a constant reminder of an old scandal in which her husband’s family was involved. More than one hundred years before, a prince of the country of Ruritania had visited England and had become involved with the wife of one of the Rassendyll men. A child was born who had the red hair and the large, straight nose of the Elphbergs. Since that unfortunate event, five or six descendants of the English lady and the Ruritanian prince have had the characteristic nose and red hair of their royal ancestor. Rose finds Rudolf’s red hair and large nose a disgrace for that reason.

Rassendyll himself, however, has no concern over his resemblance to the Ruritanian royal family. A new king is to be crowned in that country within a few weeks, and Rassendyll decides to travel to Ruritania for the coronation to get a closer view of his unclaimed relatives. Realizing that his brother and sister-in-law will try to prevent him from taking the journey if they know his plans, he tells them that he is going to take a tour of the Tyrol. After he leaves England, his first stop is Paris, where he learns something more about affairs in the country he is to visit. The new king, also called Rudolf, has a half brother, Michael, duke of Strelsau. Michael would have liked to become king, and it is hinted that he will try to prevent the coronation of Rudolf. Rassendyll also learns that there is a beautiful lady, Antoinette de Mauban, who loves Michael and has his favor. She, too, is traveling to Ruritania for the coronation.

When he reaches Ruritania and finds the capital city crowded, Rassendyll takes lodging in Zenda, a small town approximately fifty miles from the capital, and prepares to travel to the capital by train for the coronation. Zenda is part of Michael’s domain; his hunting lodge is only a few miles from the inn where Rassendyll is staying. Rassendyll also learns that King Rudolf is a guest at his half brother’s hunting lodge while waiting for the coronation. In addition, he hears more rumors of a plot against the king and talk that Black Michael, as he is called, plans to seize the throne.

As he passes the days before the scheduled coronation, Rassendyll takes a walk every day through the woods near Michael’s hunting lodge. One day, near the lodge, he hears two men discussing his close resemblance to the king. The men introduce themselves as Fritz von Tarlenheim and Colonel Sapt, faithful friends of King Rudolf. While the three men talk, the king himself appears. The king has shaved his beard, but otherwise he and Rassendyll are identical in appearance. The king is pleased to meet his distant cousin and invites Rassendyll to the lodge; there the king drinks so much that Fritz and Sapt cannot wake him the next morning, the day of the coronation.

As the king sleeps in his stupor, Fritz and Sapt propose...

(The entire section is 1269 words.)