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The Prince and the Pauper
The Prince and the Pauper is a 1882 book by Mark Twain that represents his first attempt at historical fiction. The book, set in 1547, 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, London, and Prince Edward son of Henry VIII of England.
Due to a series of circumstances, the boys accidentally replace each other, with Tom Canty brought into the palace, and Prince Edward attempting to escape from the clutches of Tom's father. Finally Edward attaches himself to a discredited nobleman, Miles Hendon, who offers to help him return to the palace. Meanwhile news reaches them that King Henry VIII has died and Edward is the rightful king.
After a series of adventures, including a stint in prison, Edward manages to exchange places with Tom just as the latter is about to celebrate his coronation. Tom is eager to give up the throne, but the nobles refuse to believe that the beggarly child is the rightful king, until he produces the Great Seal that he had hidden before leaving the palace. Later, Miles is rewarded with a raised noble rank of an Earl and the unique family right to sit in the presence of the king.
Much of the humor in the book originates in the two boys' inability to function in the world that is so familiar to the other, although Tom soon displays considerable wisdom in his decisions. In many ways, the book is a social satire, particularly compelling in its condemnation of the inequality that existed between the classes in Tudor England. In that sense, Twain abandoned the wry Midwestern style for which he was best known and adopts a style reminiscent of Charles Dickens.
Though not as popular among critics as Twain's other works, the book foreshadowed the author's successful forays into historical fiction with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
The book was later adapted for the stage in an episode that involved Twain in a serious lawsuit with the playwright. It was also the basis of several films, one of which, released in 1937, starred Errol Flynn (as Hendon) and twins Billy and Bobby Mauch as Tom Conty and Edward Tudor respectively. The film was originally intended to coincide with the coronation of King George VI, but its release was delayed and it was first screened the following year in 1937.
In some of these versions, Prince Edward takes the precaution of carrying identification when he assumes Tom's role; an idea whose effectiveness varies depending on the version.
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