A Review on The Prince And Pauper
This is a review on one of the classic of Mark Twain.
This historical tale begins with one child born into a family that really wants him and the other, unwanted and unappreciated. This would have meant nothing if the pair weren’t identical to each other. Mark Twain takes a hard look at Tudor England and imagines what would have happened ‘if’ Prince Edward would have the opportunity to exchange places with Tom and discover the truth about his soon-to-be inherited kingdom.
Poor Tom Canty is born to a beggar mother and a vicious father who is a thief. They live in Offal Court, a cursed place full of dreadful rabble. There is a light however, in the form of Father Andrew, a kindly old priest who lost his position when King Henry VIII cracked down on the Catholic Church. He makes it his mission to expose those who are willing to an education and higher thoughts. Thus, Tom learns to read and it is while doing so that he dreams of being a fine gentleman with a charmed life. One should be careful what one dreams for.
Always hungry and abused by his father and grandmother, Tom one day catches a glimpse of a comely boy, clothes hung with jewels. When the guard tells him to get away, young Edward protests and demands the boy be taken inside the palace and to the prince’s chambers. Tom relates what his life is like and the prince is fascinated, particularly about the things he thinks are fun, like swimming and races. Edward then complains of his life and the horrible routine he is forced to endure and suggests, since they are nearly identical in appearance, that they trade places for a day. It is then that both boys’ real adventure begins.
Edward, now garbed as Tom, wanders the squalid streets of London and becomes angry at what he sees. He is finally seized upon by Tom’s father, John Canty who immediately believes he is mad and drags him back to Offal Court. Tom, in the meanwhile as Edward becomes afraid when the prince does not return. Tom is taken to see his supposed father, Henry VIII, who is an invalid. The king is so grieved that Tom plays the role, suddenly fearful he will never be able to escape.
When Edward arrives at Offal Court he announces that he is Prince Edward and is beaten soundly by John Canty. Edward manages to escape with the help of Miles Hendon, a Lord who is returning to reclaim his estate and marry his fair Edith, just as the announcement rings through the city that the ‘King is dead, long live the King.” Both boys are now in serious trouble. Edward cannot get back to the palace to assume his rightful throne, and Tom is soon to be crowned, though all around him think is ‘touched.’ Edward strikes out on his own and meets several classes of people. To all, including a band of ruffians, peasant children, and a hermit, Edward states he is the King of England. Finally, rescued again by Miles, he demands to be taken to the court. Miles Hendon at first thinks Edward is crazy, but after awhile, noting Edward’s use of language and knowledge of the court, begins to half-believe the youth. They first must make a stop at Hendon Hall, where Miles is eager to see his father and brother Arthur. Arthur states they received a letter seven years ago stating that Miles was dead and now the estate is his. Miles demands that his father be called, but the old man has died of grief and worse yet, Edith has married his brother! Arthur has the pair arrested and thrown into prison.
Edward, with the help of Miles, finally makes their escape and return to London just as the coronation is about to take place in Westminster Abbey. Tom, on the way to be crowned, sees his mother and twin sisters in the crowd and suddenly desires very much to return to his old life. A wonderful, final confrontation leads to Edward revealing to the court that the ‘Great Seal’ has been hidden by him and states where. Finally, he is returned to the throne, and the fortunes of Miles, Tom, and the King improve. Edwardrules for only a few years, but is a better and wiser king for all his adventures.
First published in 1882, Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, was only two years away from producing what many consider the American classic, Huckleberry Finn. Still The Prince and the Pauper is notable. Clemens was an ardent believer in democracy. The monarchy, as he was quick to point out, often ruled poorly, sometimes from reckless governing (as in the case of how Father Andrew was treated) or because of naiveté. Prince Edward learns by rubbing elbows with the poor and disenfranchised in England how to be a better ruler. Though his reign is short, followed by his half-sister’s Mary (nicknamed Bloody Mary), and Elizabeth (Good Queen Bess), it is praised by Twain. The author truly believed one could rise above their station as noted in this quote, ‘Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great ones make you feel that you, too, can become great.” Such is the case with Tom Canty and Edward.
The CD of this classic is now available for your listening pleasure