Summary of The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain


Twain's popular novel chronicles the adventures of two young boys, a Prince and a Pauper, who exchange roles and stations in life. Each boy has strong misconceptions of what the other boys life is like and series of educational and entertaining adventures play out as the boys grow more comfortable in both their real and assumed roles in life. Mark Twain's Prince and the Pauper is a popular story and a classic from American Literature.

The novel opens with the announcement of the birth of Tom Canty, a pauper, and Edward Tudor, the Prince of Wales. The two boys grow up in different surroundings and are unaware of each other's existence. Tom lives in Offal Court, one of the poorest localities of London, where his drunken father forces him to beg in the streets. However, he finds time to learn Latin and read the books of Father Andrew. The old legends and histories he reads haunt his mind, and he starts visualizing himself as the prince. One day, after wandering about the streets, he walks towards the royal palace. The guards, catching him gaping through the gates, accost him, but the prince comes to the boy's rescue. He takes Tom to his chambers and inquires about his family. When Tom expresses a desire to wear princely clothes, he and the boy exchange their clothes. The striking resemblance between them surprises the two boys. Then, on an impulse, Edward storms out of his room to punish the sentinel who had behaved rudely with Tom. The guard mistakes him for Tom and pushes him out of the gate. The prince is thus thrown into the harsh world outside.

Edward experiences exhaustion and hunger as he walks through the streets of London. When he reaches Offal Court. John Canty apprehends him and, mistaking him for his son, gives him a beating. Father Andrew comes to rescue the boy from Canty's onslaughts and is struck by Canty. When Canty learns that Father Andrew is dying from his blow, he flees London with Edward in his grasp. It is the eve of a long procession down the Thames and ceremony at the Guildhall in honor of Tom, however, and, in the confusion, Edward escapes. Edward heads for the Guildhall, which he reaches as Tom is being honored there. The guards and crowds jeer him when he calls himself the prince and are about to attack him when Miles Hendon appears on the scene and rescues him.

In the meantime, the courtiers believe that Tom is Edward, and when the boy tries asserts his true identity, they dub him as mad. Tom is then taken to meet Henry VIII. When the boy fails to recognize the king, Henry VIII also expresses doubts about the sanity of the boy and advises him to relax his mind. Tom is thus forced to play the part of the prince. Slowly, he gets acquainted with the norms of the palace and reconciles himself to his situation. After the king's death, he feels the burden of responsibility on his head, but starts playing his role in earnest. He gives orders for the release of Duke of Norfolk, whom his father had condemned to death, and pardons several prisoners. The public appreciates his benevolent acts and cheer his wisdom and mercy.

Miles Hendon does not believe Edward's declaration that he is the prince, but takes pity on the boy, who he believes to be mad. He takes Edward to his lodgings, planning to bring him home to his father's estate, to which he is returning after a long absence. While he is out, however, John Canty and his associates kidnap Edward.

Edward is made to live among vagabonds and ruffians. He deplores their behavior, but learns that many of these petty criminals are the victims of the unjust and harsh laws of England. One day, he is sent to beg with Hugo, a young member of the band. When Hugo tries to cheat a passerby out of his money, Edward exposes his deceit and makes his escape. That night he takes shelter in the barn of a peasant. The next morning, he is found by the peasant family. Although the children believe Edward, the mother does not; she asks him numerous questions and has him perform various household chores in order to test his identity. When John Canty approaches the house, Edward escapes, and next takes shelter in the house of a mad hermit. The hermit tries to kill the boy, but before he can lay hands on him, John Canty and Hugo arrive and carry him away.

Once again, Hugo tries to make the Prince Participate in begging and thieving; the prince however, steadfastly refuses to have anything to do with such activities. Hugo therefore decides to put the prince into the hands of the law, which he accomplishes by snatching a bundle, thrusting it into the prince's arms, and dashing away. The appearance of guilt is enough for the crowd that gathers, and the burliest of them is about to beat the prince when Miles Hendon once again appears. To appease the crowd, Miles and the prince must go before the magistrate. The judge is kindly, and the sentence is short. Hendon then manages to convince the sheriff that the wisest course would be to free the boy, and the two leave, headed toward Hendon Hall, from which Miles has been absent for some ten years.

When they arrive there, Miles's brother Hugh and the Lady Edith, who once loved Miles, deny that Miles is still alive. In fact, Hugh Hendon has Miles arrested as an impostor, and the prince is taken to jail along with him. There, the prince discovers the filthy conditions of his country's prisons, and he hears more stories about the many injustices of English laws. Finally, Miles is sentenced to sit two hours in the pillory; he also takes twelve lashes because the prince once again tries to assert himself. When the two are released at last, they turn back toward London.

Coincidentally, as the prince is returning to London, Tom Canty is rapidly learning to be a king and is preparing for his coronation. On Coronation Day, he rides in a grand procession through London. Riding past Offal Court, he sees his mother, and he denies knowing her; immediately, however, he is stricken with remorse.

The ceremony begins; then, suddenly, just as the Archbishop of Canterbury is about to place the crown on Tom's head, the real prince steps forward and forbids it. Tom affirms the boy's claim. Several inconclusive tests are tried in order to determine the identity of the boys, and finally the location of the Great Seal of England is suggested. With some prompting from Tom, Edward Tudor tells the Lord St. John where the seal is to be found, thus establishing his true right to the throne of England.

When Miles Hendon, who has been separated from the prince, appears outside Westminster, he is arrested and brought before the newly crowned king. Having believed throughout their travels together that the boy was mad, Hendon cannot believe that his young friend, now on the throne, is the same person. To test him, he pulls up a chair and sits in his presence; Edward affirms Miles's right to do so, and he also affirms that he has made Hendon a knight and that, furthermore, Hendon is now a peer of England, Earl of Kent. Later, Tom Canty is made the "King's Ward," and his sisters and his mother are granted lifetime care at Christ's Hospital.

The last chapter ties up loose ends of the plot: Hugh Hendon, though not prosecuted, leaves England and goes to the Continent; the Lady Edith marries Miles; Edward amply rewards those who were land to him, punishes those who were not, and makes reparations to those who suffered from the cruel injustice of English laws. Throughout his short life and reign, Edward Tudor always remembers his adventures and reigns more mercifully because of them.

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