The Prince and the Pauper Study Guide

The Prince and the Pauper By Mark Twain

The Prince and the Pauper is a fictional story about a real prince - Prince Edward the Sixth of England - and a made-up pauper, Tom Canty, who trade lives in the days just before Edward becomes King of England.

Tom Canty was a rare begger who was literate due to the efforts of a local priest, and he hangs around the palace gates looking in on the 'other half'. One day, Tom is caught and nearly beaten by the Royal Guards but for the intervention of Prince Edward, who invites Tom into his chambers. The two talk, and are amazed by each other's lifestyle, each impressed with the other -- and with the uncanny resemblance the two share. They decide to trade clothes, and lives, temporarily. Before Edward leaves for the streets, he hides the Great Seal of England.

Presently, Prince Edward's effort is going into his escape from Tom's drunken and abusive father; Tom, attempting to cope with court life, has the nobles and servants in the palace thinking he has lost his memory and fearing he has lost his mind. They drill him constantly about the Great Seal, but he knows nothing about it. When he is asked to sit in on judgements, however, his common-sense observations and keen judgment assure them that he is of sound mind.

On the outside, Edward encounters Miles Hendon, a solder and nobleman coming home from a war. Miles 'humors' Edward's claims of royalty and becomes his protector. Edward experience the harsh injustice and punitive nature of the judicial system, seeing the poor convicted of almost anything on the flimsiest of excuses and punished by branding or hanging for very petty offenses. He vows to reign with mercy when he regains his rightful place.

Soon, word comes that Henry VIII has died, and Prince Edward is now the rightful king. After a series of misadventures, Edward manages to interrupt the coronation just as Tom is about to be crowned the King of England. When he explains the situation to the court, no one believes him until he easily retrieves the Great Seal of England he had previously hidden.

Tom is made the King's Ward, Miles is awarded with the rank of Earl and the privilege of sitting in the King's presence (a very big deal). Everyone lives happily for some time, until Edward died young (a narrative element forced by the fact that the historical King Edward really did die at a young age).

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