The Prince and the Pauper
On the same day on which a son is born to Henry VIII, occasioning much celebration, a son is born to John Canty in the squalor of Offal Court. While Edward Tudor is reared as the Prince of Wales, Tom Canty survives on the streets and learns literacy and Latin from a friendly priest. Reading about royalty, he organizes games in which he plays the prince. One day in Westminster, Tom sees the real prince in the palace grounds. When a guard tries to drive Tom away, Edward intervenes and invites Tom to play with him.
To their amazement, they look like twins. To complete the impression, Edward has them exchange clothes. Seeing a bruise which Tom received from the guard, Edward goes to reprimand him, and the guard, thinking him the pauper, drives him from the palace.
Tom is assumed to be Prince of Wales, and when he insists on his real identity, he is thought insane. Shortly thereafter, Henry VIII dies, and the Prince becomes King, only it is the pauper who sits on the throne. Gradually, Tom functions as monarch and by his common sense and feeling for justice rules wisely and well.
Meanwhile, Edward is forced into John Canty’s band of thieves. Mocked by a mob when he insists that he is the king, Edward is saved by Miles Hendon, a soldier of fortune. Canty recaptures the boy and takes him into the countryside, where the king learns of the hardship and suffering of the common people. When, with Hendon’s help, he is restored to the throne, he becomes a better ruler from his experience as a pauper.
An ardent advocate of democracy, Twain shows that a poor boy can be as good a ruler as the son of a king and that a king rules better after living among the poor.
Baetzhold, Howard G. Mark Twain and John Bull. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970. Includes a twenty-page chapter that documents Mark Twain’s British sources for historical details in the novel.
Cummings, Sherwood. Mark Twain and Science: Adventures of a Mind . Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988. Cummings examines the often overlooked influence of Mark Twain’s reading of French history on many details in the novel. Summarizes the...
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