In one edition of The Prince and the Pauper, the author of the introduction suggests that Mark Twain was strongly emphasizing in his novel how a lack of social status, worldly positions, and personal wealth do not diminish any less fortunate person’s individual worth or value, regardless of the circumstances of his/her birth or his/her station in life. This is indeed one of the main themes of this classic book, notwithstanding the story’s scrutiny of the poorer classes’ survival in sixteenth century England. The author did plant his own original idea in the midst of the storyline, but he still builds a bridge between historical facts and historical presumptions by recounting the environment during the reign of King Henry VIII with authenticity.
For once, attention is completely taken away from the infamous womanizer’s corporeal pursuits and given instead to the everyday events that took place within the king’s court. Murder and torture were common proceedings in such a dangerous political arena where flattery, deception, and cunning are talents needed in order to stay alive every day. The Prince and the Pauper never flatters this cycle of the late Renaissance with praise but exposes these times as being a graphic demonstration of terrible brutality and cruelty. The thought that a good-hearted commoner could somehow assume control of the kingdom and repair the damaged state of the country is an extraordinary stroke of imagination.
Moreover, Tom Canty’s and Prince Edward Tudor’s physical likeness is made an even better, albeit more confusing, circumstance by the fact that both boys are kings at heart. They are compelled to take up the challenge of ruling a nation that has dropped into the dust of despair. Tom can finally use his wisdom and intelligence for the sake of other citizens; he cleans the bloody throne of England, righting wrongs and instilling the virtue of justice into the cornerstone of the British nobility. Tom also turns away a tidal wave of power and pending executions through the practice of clemency and generosity, and for him, the true duties of a king are taking care of his subjects with equality and humane treatment for all.
On the other hand, Prince Edward (later known as King Edward VI) has to be slapped out of his spoiled lifestyle and naive perception of the real world outside the palace gates. He suddenly comes face-to-face with prejudice when he is not wearing a crown or sheltered in the palace, a direct result of the chaos his father the king spread throughout England with the schism of the new Anglican sect (the Church of England) and the nation’s extreme, neglected state of poverty and squalor. Edward himself witnesses injustice in a corrupt courthouse and the unfair trials that take place there.
Innocent children and young adults are burned at the stake for heresy (a medieval “crime” created by society’s lack of religious tolerance), men are missing ears and limbs for stealing food, and even Edward himself is sentenced to be flogged after talking back to a magistrate in defense of an “offender.” Miles Hendon, his loyal friend, is the epitome of knightly virtues. By accepting the prince’s punishment for himself, Hendon displays his honesty, courage, and nobility in spite of poverty. He will take no reward and requires none to do a good deed, even for the most wretched person.
Edward and Tom both have important lessons to learn in The Prince and the Pauper, which is, ironically, a novel rooted in moral lessons. Tom learns prudence, while Edward masters the difficulty of being just to all in spite of contributing factors like money and status. One way to summarize the message within The Prince and the Pauper is that every man should act and be treated like a just king. In other words, the “Golden Rule” stands firmly by Twain’s charming, stirring tale, which in turn is supported by a richly designed and detailed historical background filled with interesting characters. The Prince and the Pauper is, without a doubt, an achievement for historical fiction and Mark Twain’s best novel.
Part 1: Mark Twain’s best work is an exquisite historical novel; Part 2: Mark Twain’s best work is an exquisite historical novel; Part 3: Mark Twain’s best work is an exquisite historical novel, Examiner.com