The Young King Summary

Extended Summary

Oscar Wilde's short story “The Young King” opens on the day before the king’s official coronation ceremonies. The young man, who was to become king on the next day, is only sixteen years old. When his courtiers are called away for etiquette lessons, the young king is grateful for the solitude. He relaxes in the luxury of his quarters and recalls the day that hunters discovered him shepherding his adoptive father’s herd of goats.

The hunters were seeking the young boy, who was the only offspring of the king’s daughter. The young woman was rumored to have secretly married a man who was far beneath her social class. Some speculated that the man was a talented musician who seduced her with his rhythmic lute melodies. Others reported that the man was a gifted artist, who quickly left town prior to completing his great work. Regardless of his parentage, the young boy had been stolen from his mother when he was only one week old. He was taken to the home of a poor goat herder. The man and his wife were impoverished and childless, and they welcomed the baby into their lives.

The baby’s mother died shortly thereafter. Again, rumors circulated regarding the cause of the young woman’s death. Some suggested that she died of grief. Some reported that she died of “the plague.” Others insinuated that she was discreetly poisoned and died from the lethal and toxic effects of the contaminant. The rumors also included the young woman’s burial. Villagers whispered that she was buried in an “open grave” with the body of a foreign man who had been stabbed to death.

The old king, as he faced his own mortality, dispatched the hunters to find his grandson and bring him home. He conferred his kingly rights onto his grandson in the presence of his grand council. The young man quickly embraced his right to rule and live as royalty. He took great delight in the luxury and lavish comfort of his new home. He adorned himself in fine clothing and extravagantly indulged in the magnificence of his new title. In fact, he so loved every valuable possession of his kingdom that some speculated that he worshipped them.

The young king began to collect the rarest and finest jewels and the most precious objects from around the globe. More than anything else, however, he became obsessed with his attire for the coronation ceremony. He gave instructions to his tailors to craft “a robe of tissued gold.” After he lounges a little longer, he falls asleep and immediately begins to dream.

In the young king’s dream, he stands beside a man who was furiously weaving in a room inhabited by poor and unhealthy people. The weaver is annoyed by the young king’s presence and accuses him of spying on him for his master. The young king insists that he was only observing the weaver as he worked, but the weaver was not appeased by his remarks. When the young king suggests that the...

(The entire section is 1187 words.)

Ed. Scott Locklear