*England. The novel can be read as an attack on England’s monarchical institutions and hereditary privilege. The book depicts mid-sixteenth century England as a grim place in which most people live hard lives under cruel and unjust laws and heedless rulers. The novel forces Edward, Prince of Wales, to live among his meanest subjects; after he is restored to rightful position, he is moved to liberalize England’s laws.
*London. The principal setting for about half the novel, England’s capital city is depicted as existing in two worlds: the unending want of life in places such as Offal Court and the unlimited plenty of the royal court. The pauper boy, Tom Canty, though wise beyond his years, knows nothing about the London outside his slum until the day he wanders to Westminster Palace. Meanwhile, Prince Edward is equally ignorant of the London outside his palace until the accident that causes him to switch places with Tom.
*London Bridge. A hive of shops, inns, and homes, the oldest bridge across the Thames is a microcosm of London whose denizens include some people who have never even set foot ashore. Touching the river’s north bank near Offal Court, the bridge is the place where John Canty instructs his family to gather after he kills a priest and has to flee London. Prince Edward’s champion, Miles Hendon, takes lodgings on the bridge, which is also the place where he and Edward become separated by a mob after they return from Hendon Hall.
*River Thames (tehmz). River that winds through London. It is introduced early as a playground of Tom Canty and his friends—much like the Mississippi River is a playground to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in other novels by Mark Twain. When Tom Canty tells Prince Edward about the games he plays in the river’s mudbanks, the prince declares he would “forego the crown” if he could but “revel in the mud once.” To Edward, the river represents freedom, but to Tom it becomes a pathway to imprisonment. After he is entrapped in the palace and accepted as the prince, he is reluctantly carried on the river on barges, first to a state occasion at the Guildhall and later on the first stage of his procession to his coronation.
Offal Court. Shabby London neighborhood where Tom Canty, his parents, twin sisters, and an abusive grandmother live in a single upstairs room, in which they sleep on straw on the floor. Though Offal Court is a “foul little pocket,” Tom is reasonably happy—so long as he is not hungry and his father forces him only to beg, not to steal. Taking ideas from romantic books, Tom finds time to join friends in games, which include holding mock royal courts and pretending to be a prince—training that later serves him well.
To the real prince, Offal Court is one of many prisons he endures outside his palace. He goes there hoping to find help to get back to the palace; instead, he is seized by Tom’s father—who thinks he is his son—and is taken to the family lodging, where he is beaten and left to sleep on the floor. Much of the narrative from that moment concerns Edward’s struggle to escape from John Canty’s control after Canty joins up with a band of thieves in the countryside, and Edward goes from one form of imprisonment to another.
*Westminster Palace. Royal palace of King Henry VIII (now home to the Houses of Parliament), located upriver from Offal Court. One day, Tom Canty wanders to the palace and is thrilled to glimpse Prince Edward through a gate. When Edward sees Tom being struck by a guard, he invites him into the palace, feeds him, and asks him about his carefree life in Offal Court. On a whim, the prince suggests they swap clothes, and the boys discover that they could be twins. Mistaken for the beggar boy, the prince is tossed out of the palace, leaving Tom alone inside, deathly afraid of being discovered and executed. Tom’s dream of being a prince is now a nightmare. Even...
(The entire section is 1,765 words.)