Summary and Analysis
"We left John Canty dragging the rightful prince into Offal Court, with a noisy and delighted mob at his heels." Twain aims for our compassion as the true prince struggles to get free, all the while raging against the cruel treatment by Tom Canty's father. The old man is ready to use his cudgel against the child when someone in the crowd stays Canty's hand. Canty is not to be stopped, however, and he delivers a severe blow to the bystander's head. The wounded man sinks to the ground, and the mob passes on. Finally they all arrive at Canty's den, and the prince sees Tom's mother and sisters — "animals habituated to harsh usage"; Tom's grandmother looks like "a withered hag with streaming grey hair and malignant eyes."
Prodded by Canty, the prince proclaims himself to be Edward, Prince of Wales. Tom's mother rushes to him, convinced that he is mad, and the prince tells her again that he is not her son: his father is King of England, whereupon she can do nothing but wail brokenheartedly. Tom's sister pleads with her father to be gentle with the boy, saying that rest will heal his madness. Canty, however, asks what the boy has managed to beg that day, and when the prince dismisses such "sordid matters," Canty and Tom's grandmother thoroughly beat him and send him to bed.
In the darkness, Tom's mother ponders what she has heard and the differences between her son and this mad boy: is he really her son? At last, she devises a test: Tom Canty habitually covers his eyes with his hands, palms outward, when confronted with sudden bright lights or noises. Thus she thrusts her candle into the prince's face and thumps loudly on the floor; the boy is startled, but he makes no gesture with his hands. She soothes the prince back to sleep, but she is left more confused than ever.
Just after the prince awakens, drowsily calling for his groom, the family hears several sharp raps on the door. They are informed that it was Father Andrew whom Canty struck in the crowd and, furthermore, that Father Andrew is now dying. Canty gathers the family together and hurries them out of the house and toward Southwark. The Canty family, however, is separated when they are caught up in the midst of revelers celebrating the Prince of Wale's procession into London. Canty, meanwhile, keeps his "son" in his grip until he is persuaded by a waterman to take a ceremonial drink with him. This requires Canty to use both hands, and Edward dives into the sea of legs and disappears.
Trying to get as far from John Canty as possible, Edward realizes that the young boy he exchanged clothes with has taken his place in the castle. He concludes that Tom Canty "had deliberately taken advantage of stupendous opportunity and become a usurper." He therefore determines that he will make his way to the Guildhall and announce himself. He also decides that the usurper will be hanged, drawn, and quartered.
Meanwhile, the royal barge makes its way down the Thames River. There is music in the air, bonfires light the sky, artillery booms forth, and the crowd cheers loudly. For Tom, the pageantry is astonishing and wonderful, but to his two companions, the Princess Elizabeth and the Lady Jane Grey, it is commonplace.
Finally the barge docks, and Tom and his entourage walk to the Guildhall. There, too, the spectacle is grand and colorful, and Tom is seated at the highest table, while the guests, all richly dressed, are seated at lower tables, depending on their royal degree. After prayer and grace is given, Tom and the Princess Elizabeth drink from a large golden loving cup, which is then passed down the table, and the banquet begins.
Tom watches the dancing while the real prince stands at the gates of the Guildhall, proclaiming himself to be the Prince of Wales and demanding that he be admitted. The crowd taunts him and mocks him, and he defies all those who revile him. A man who identifies himself as Miles Hendon, and whose clothes have seen better days, takes up the prince's cause. And it is well that he does, for had he not done so, the crowd would have beaten the poor prince. Hendon's sword gives the two breathing room for awhile, but matters continue to look grim until a king's messenger and his troops scatter the mob. Hendon then grabs the prince and takes him away from the danger.
In the Guildhall, a messenger proclaims that the king is dead; this news shocks the crowd into momentary silence. In the next moment, however, they stretch their arms toward Tom and shout, "Long live the king!" Tom is confused, but he suddenly realizes something momentous; turning to the Lord Hertford, he asks if his word is now law — if it is true that whatever he commands must be carried out. Assured that this is so, Tom proclaims, "Then shall the king's law be a law of mercy, from this day, and never more be a law of blood! . . . To the Tower and say the king decrees the Duke of Norfolk shall not die!"
In contrast to the pauper, who was described at length as he tried to adjust to the role of being a prince, attention is now shifted to the trials and tribulations which the Prince of Wales encounters as a common citizen. Interestingly, in a later chapter we will hear the prince express the concept that all kings should be forced to live the life of a common citizen in order to understand the problems that the common man faces. For the present, however, the first thing that the young prince learns, as a commoner, concerns the absolute brutality of life itself. Having shifted from living a life of luxury, with over three hundred servants to wait on him, the prince now finds that the life of a pauper offers a fearsome contrast. Furthermore, Twain underscores the contrast in lifestyles by elaborately detailing the royal pageantry described in Chapter 9, with all of its sumptuous luxury, and then starkly focusing on John Canty, dragging the prince through Offal Court.
The existence of the prince is compared to that of an animal, and whereas Tom Canty himself is considered mad, the real prince is likewise considered to be mad. Tom's mother, for example, thinks that her son has read so much that this "foolish reading hath . . . taken [his] wit away." The father, John Canty, also considers his son to be too much involved in "fine mummeries" and "foolery." Here, Twain is emphasizing the central contrast between the prince and the pauper: Tom Canty is believed to be the mad Prince of Wales; yet, because he is believed to be mad, he is coddled and protected and given every possible consideration. On the other hand, the Prince of Wales, believed to be a pauper, is treated brutally by his "father" and "grandmother" and receives no sympathy whatsoever.
In terms of Twain's plotting, we learn in Chapter 10 that Tom's mother devises a test whereby she thinks that she can discern whether or not this young lad is truly her son or not. The test involves an automatic reflex that Tom Canty always does when he encounters something unexpected. Yet after three trials by Mrs. Canty, the woman is not convinced of anything certain, and she still questions whether or not the boy is really her son. In Chapter 31, when Tom Canty is on his way to be crowned king and the procession passes Offal Court, he sees his mother unexpectedly in the crowd and "up flew his hand, palm outward, before his eyes — that old involuntary gesture, born of a forgotten episode, and perpetrated by habit."
The test that Tom's mother performs should be contrasted with the suspicion that both the Lord St. John and the Lord Hertford have concerning the true identity of the Prince of Wales. Twain's point is clear: despite even a slight difference in the character and personality of a person, his clothes ultimately determine his status as an individual; unfortunately, a pauper is a pauper because he wears a pauper's clothes, and a prince is a prince merely because he wears a prince's clothes.
Likewise, in terms of Twain's plot devices, it should be noted that John Canty accidentally strikes a stranger in the mob; the stranger turns out to be old Father Andrew, now dying. The death of Father Andrew makes it imperative for the Cantys to flee and makes it impossible, therefore, for the real Tom Canty to know where his family is. In particular, the ease with which the Cantys are able to leave Offal Court is contrasted with the pomp and circumstance of the royal court and the virtual "imprisonment" that Tom Canty finds himself in as Prince of Wales.
Another major plot element involves the prince's escape from John Canty. The loving cup, the one offered to John Canty, has to be held with both hands, or else the tradition is not considered to be an honorable one. Thus, when John Canty takes the loving cup in both hands, it allows the prince to escape. The prince's intentions are, of course, to return to court and make himself known. He is furious and vows to use his royal prerogative to see to it that Tom Canty is hanged, drawn, and quartered. However, after the Prince of Wales has lived as a commoner for a time and is finally restored to his rightful kingship, his many and varied experiences as a pauper will have taught him great compassion and tolerance.
In Chapter 11, note the magnificence of the royal barge procession, the rich clothing, and the luxurious pillows on which Tom and his companions recline while they view the pageantry; all of this provides an effective contrast with the conditions that the real prince experienced in Chapter 10. The pageantry of royalty is a constant preoccupation of Twain's; he glories in describing its magnificence, but, at the same time, he mocks this great show of ceremony in several ways later in the novel.
The motif of the loving cup also appears in Chapter 11, when Tom and Elizabeth drink from one at the royal feast. This time, however, both of them are willing to drink (unlike Canty and the insistent waterman), and the mood here is celebratory. Indeed, this ceremony is followed by still further pageantry and by festive dancing by the court nobles.
It is somewhat ironic that in the midst of this celebration, feting the health and well-being of the Prince of Wales, the real Prince of Wales is outside the gates demanding entrance and, as a result, is very nearly beaten for his seeming foolishness and arrogance. It is also ironic that the news of the king's death is announced in the midst of all this festive celebration, for note that as soon as Tom Canty learns that the king is dead, he wonders whether it is true that if he gives a command, it will be obeyed. Assured that his word is indeed law, his first decree is that "the Duke of Norfolk shall not die." Thus the pauper, acting as the new King of England, performs the first in a series of humanitarian acts and establishes a reign of decency and mercy and justice, qualities that should, of course, be found in any king. A great cheer greets the end of the reign of blood (during which Henry VIII killed approximately 60,000 people and imprisoned 70,000 more for religious reasons).
Chapter 11 also introduces Miles Hendon, a good example of the best of English common sense and common "nobility," even though his clothing has seen better days and belies his true nature. Hendon is immediately attracted to the Prince of Wales — not because he is a prince but because Hendon is able to see that despite the outward facade of pauper's clothes, the young boy has true nobility of character. Throughout the rest of the novel, Miles Hendon never really believes that the lad is the true prince, but nonetheless he seeks ways to help the lad recover from his "delusions," and he remains a loyal friend to him.