The Prince and the Pauper

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The Prince and the Pauper
First US edition
Author Mark Twain
Country United States
Language English
Genre Realistic fiction
Children's literature
Publisher James R. Osgood & Co.
Publication date
The pauper and Prince Edward as imagined in 1899

The Prince and the Pauper is a novel by American author Mark Twain. It was first published in 1881 in Canada, before its 1882 publication in the United States. The novel represents Twain's first attempt at historical fiction. Set in 1547, it tells the story of two young boys who are identical in appearance: Tom Canty, a pauper who lives with his abusive father in Offal Court off Pudding Lane in London, and Prince Edward, son of King Henry VIII.


Tom Canty, youngest son of a poor family living in Offal Court located in London; has always aspired to a better life, encouraged by the local priest (who has taught him to read and write). Loitering around the palace gates one day, he sees a prince (the Prince of Wales – Edward VI). Coming too close in his intense excitement, Tom is nearly caught and beaten by the Royal Guards; however, Edward stops them and invites Tom into his palace chamber. There the two boys get to know one another, fascinated by each other's life and their uncanny resemblance; they were born on the same day. They decide to switch clothes "temporarily". The Prince momentarily goes outside, quickly hiding an article of national importance (which the reader later learns is the Great Seal of England), but dressed as he is in Tom's rags, he is not recognized by the guards, who drive him from the palace, and he eventually finds his way through the streets to the Canty home. There he is subjected to the brutality of Tom's abusive father, from whom he manages to escape, and meets one Miles Hendon, a soldier and nobleman returning from war. Although Miles does not believe Edward's claims to royalty, he humors him and becomes his protector. Meanwhile, news reaches them that King Henry VIII has died and Edward is now the king.

Tom, posing as the prince, tries to cope with court customs and manners. His fellow nobles and palace staff think "the prince" has an illness which has caused memory loss and fear he will go mad. They repeatedly ask him about the missing "Great Seal", but he knows nothing about it; however, when Tom is asked to sit in on judgments, his common-sense observations reassure them his mind is sound.

As Edward experiences the brutish life of a pauper firsthand, he becomes aware of the stark class inequality in England. In particular, he sees the harsh, punitive nature of the English judicial system where people are burned at the stake, pilloried, and flogged. He realizes that the accused are convicted on flimsy evidence (and branded – or hanged – for petty offenses), and vows to reign with mercy when he regains his rightful place. When Edward unwisely declares to a gang of thieves that he is the king and will put an end to unjust laws, they assume he is insane and hold a mock coronation.

After a series of adventures (including a stint in prison), Edward interrupts the coronation as Tom is about to celebrate it as King Edward VI. Tom is eager to give up the throne; however, the nobles refuse to believe that the beggarly child Edward appears to be is the rightful king until he produces the Great Seal that he hid before leaving the palace. Tom declares that if anyone had bothered to describe the seal he could have produced it at once since he had found it inside a decorative suit of armor (where Edward had hidden it) and had been using it to crack nuts.

Edward and Tom switch back to their original places and Miles is rewarded with the rank of earl and the family right to sit in the presence of the king. In gratitude for supporting the new king's claim to the throne, Edward names Tom the "king's ward" (a privileged position he holds for the rest of his life).

The ending explains that though Edward lived only a few years, he lived them well and reigned mercifully due to his experiences.


The introductory quote is part of the "quality of mercy" speech from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. While written for children, The Prince and the Pauper is a criticism of judging others by appearances.


Twain wrote The Prince and the Pauper having already started The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain wrote, "My idea is to afford a realizing sense of the exceeding severity of the laws of that day by inflicting some of their penalties upon the King himself and allowing him a chance to see the rest of them applied to others..."[1] Having returned from a second European tour which formed the basis of A Tramp Abroad (1880), Twain read extensively English and French history. Initially intended as a play, it was originally set in Victorian England before he decided to set it further back in time.[2]

The "whipping-boy story" was published in the Hartfod Bazar Budget of July 4, 1880, before he deleted it from the novel at the suggestion of William Dean Howells. The book was published by subscription by James R. Osgoode of Boston, with illustrations by F.T. Merrill.[2]

The book bears a dedication to his daughters, Susie and Clara Clemens and subtitled "A Tale For Young People of All Ages".[2]


The Prince and the Pauper was adapted for the stage, an adaptation which involved Twain in litigation with the playwright.[3] It opened on Broadway in 1920 under the direction of William Faversham, with Ruth Findlay playing both Tom Canty and Prince Edward.[4] In 1946, the story was adapted by Classic Comics to comic book format in issue 29.

Comic-book cover, with young boy menaced by a bearded, knife-wielding man
1946 Classic Comics cover

The novel has also been the basis of several films. A much-abridged 1920 silent version was produced (as one of his first films) by Alexander Korda in Austria entitled Der Prinz und der Bettelknabe. The 1937 version starred Errol Flynn (as Hendon) and twins Billy and Bobby Mauch as Tom Canty and Edward Tudor, respectively.

In 1957, CBS' DuPont Show of the Month offered an adaptation of The Prince and the Pauper, with Johnny Washbrook of My Friend Flicka as Tom Canty and Rex Thompson as Prince Edward. A 1962 three-part Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color television adaptation featured Guy Williams as Miles Hendon. Both Prince Edward and Tom Canty were played by Sean Scully, using an early version of the split-screen technique which the Disney studios would later use in The Parent Trap with Hayley Mills. The Prince and the Pauper had been filmed in Shepperton, England, a year earlier.[citation needed] The 21st episode of The Monkees, aired on February 6, 1967, was entitled "The Prince and the Paupers".

A 1975 BBC television adaptation started Nicholas Lyndhurst in the starring role.

In a 1976 ABC Afterschool Special, Lance Kerwin played the dual role in a modern American-based adaptation of the story entitled P.J. and the President's Son. The BBC produced a television adaptation by writer Richard Harris, consisting of six thirty-minute episodes, in 1976. Nicholas Lyndhurst played both Prince Edward and Tom Canty. It was adapted again in 1996.

A 1977 film version of the story, starring Oliver Reed as Miles Hendon, co-starring Rex Harrison (as the Duke of Norfolk), Mark Lester and Raquel Welch and directed by Richard Fleischer, was released in the UK as The Prince and the Pauper and in the US as Crossed Swords.

Ringo, a 1978 TV special starring Ringo Starr, involves the former Beatles drummer trading places with a talentless look-alike.

Walt Disney Feature Animation made a 1990 animated 24-minute short film, inspired by the novel and starring Mickey Mouse. In this version, Mickey trades places with himself and is supported by other Disney characters.

In 1996, PBS aired a Wishbone adaptation titled "The Pooch and the Pauper" with Wishbone playing both Tom Canty and Edward VI.

The BBC produced a six-part dramatisation of the story in 1996 with Keith Michell reprising his role of Henry VIII.

In 2000, it was adapted again as a live-action version.

In 2004, it was adapted into an 85-minute CGI-animated musical, Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper, with Barbie playing the blond Princess Anneliese and the brunette pauper Erika.

In 2006, Garfield's second live-action film entitled Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, was another adaptation of the classic story.

It Takes Two, starring twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, is a loose translation of this story in which two girls (one wealthy and the other an orphan, who resemble each other) switch places in order to experience each other's lives.

In 1996, C&E, a Taiwanese software company released an RPG video game for Sega Genesis entitled Xin Qigai Wangzi ("New Beggar Prince"). Its story was inspired by the book, with the addition of fantastic elements such as magic, monsters, and other RPG themes. The game was ported to PC in 1998. It was eventually licensed in an English translation and released in 2006 as Beggar Prince by independent game publisher Super Fighter Team. This was one of the first new games for the discontinued Sega platform since 1998 and is perhaps the first video game adaptation of the book.

The 1996 Bollywood film Tere Mere Sapne is loosely based upon this story, in which 2 boys born on exactly the same date switch places to experience the other's life, whilst learning valuable lessons along the way.

A 2000 film directed by Giles Foster starred Aidan Quinn (as Miles Hendon), Alan Bates, Jonathan Hyde, Jonathan and Robert Timmins. An Off-Broadway musical with music by Neil Berg opened at Lamb's Theatre on June 16, 2002. The original cast included Dennis Michael Hall as Prince Edward, Gerard Canonico as Tom Canty, Rob Evan as Miles Hendon, Stephen Zinnato as Hugh Hendon, Rita Harvey as Lady Edith, Michael McCormick as John Canty, Robert Anthony Jones as the Hermit/Dresser, Sally Wilfert as Mary Canty, Allison Fischer as Lady Jane and Aloysius Gigl as Father Andrew. The musical closed August 31, 2003. A 2007 film, A Modern Twain Story: The Prince and the Pauper starred identical twins Dylan and Cole Sprouse. In some versions, Prince Edward carries identification when he assumes Tom's role. While animations such as the Mickey Mouse version retell the story, other cartoons employ parody (including an episode of Johnny Bravo in which Twain appears, begging cartoonists to "let this tired story die".

A Hindi film version, Raja Aur Runk, was released in 1968 and directed by Kotayya Pratyagatma. The film "Indianized" many of the episodes in the original story. Raju Peda Telugu version adaptation of the novel was played by N. T. Rama Rao and it was directed by B. A. Subba Rao.

The BBC TV comedy series Blackadder the Third has an episode where the Prince Regent believes that the Duke of Wellington is after him. The prince swaps clothes with Blackadder (who is his butler) and says, "This reminds of that story 'The Prince and the Porpoise'." Blackadder corrects him: "Pauper. The Prince and the Pauper." Since Blackadder the Third is set during the early 1800s, this is an anachronism. An episode of Phineas and Ferb ("Make Play") follows a similar storyline, with Candace switching places with Princess Baldegunde of Duselstein and discovering that royal life is dull. Film critic Roger Ebert has suggested that Trading Places (starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy) has similarities to Twain's tale due to the two characters' switching lives (although not by choice).[5]

In 2012, a second CGI musical adaptation was released, entitled Barbie: The Princess and the Popstar. In it, Barbie plays a princess blonde named Victoria (Tori) and a brunet popstar named Keira. Both crave the life of another, one day they meet and magically change places.

English playwright Jemma Kennedy adapted the story into a musical drama which was performed at the Unicorn Theatre in London 2012–2013, directed by Selina Cartmell and starring twins Danielle Bird and Nichole Bird as the Prince and Pauper and Jake Harders as Miles Hendon.[6]

The 2017 Japanese anime series Princess Principal uses a similar story as the background for the characters Ange and Princess Charlotte; their history is revealed by Ange under the guise of a fairy tale named "The Princess and the Pickpocket". Ten years prior to the start of the series, Ange, who was actually the real Princess Charlotte, met Princess, who was actually a common pickpocket named Ange and looked identical to her. They befriended one another and eventually decided to trade places for a day. Soon after the switch, however, a Revolution broke out and divided their country, separating the girls and leaving them trapped in each other's roles.

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  1. ^ Cope, Jim; Cope, Wendy. "A Teacher's Guide to the Signet Classic Edition of Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper" (PDF). 
  2. ^ a b c Emerson, Everett (2000). Mark Twain, A Literary Life. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 123. ISBN 9780812235166. 
  3. ^ "The New York Times, March 9, 1890 MARK TWAIN IS DEFEATED. "THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER" CASE DECIDED.". Retrieved 11 August 2016. Edward H,. House, the invalid playwright, has won in his suit against Samuel L. Clemens, (Mark Twain.) Judge Daly in the Court of Common Please yesterday handed down a decision enjoining Daniel Frohman from producing Mrs. Abby Sage Richardson's dramatization of the wealthy Hartford humorist's novel. "The Prince and the Pauper," which recently was seen in this city on the stage of the Broadway Theatre. 
  4. ^ Staff (2001–2012). "The Prince and the Pauper". IBDB Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League. Retrieved 1 July 2012. 
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (9 June 1983). "Trading Places Movie Review & Film Summary (1983) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved 2013-04-10. 
  6. ^ "Unicorn Theatre - The Prince and the Pauper". Archived from the original on July 29, 2012. 

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