The Prince and the Pauper By Mark Twain Summary and Analysis Chapters 23-24

Summary

After being called "Sir" Miles, Hendon has to force back a smile because he still is amused at what he considers to be his young friend's gentle madness in pretending to be Prince of Wales. But as far as a title is concerned, Hendon thinks: "An empty and foolish title is mine, and yet it is something to have deserved it, for I think it is more honor to be held worthy to be a spectre-knight in his Kingdom of Dreams and Shadows, than to be held base enough to be an earl in some of the real kingdoms of this world."

As a constable comes to take them away, and as the prince is about to resist, Hendon, playing along with the prince's "madness," reminds the prince that the laws are, after all, his laws: "your laws are the wholesome breath of your own royalty; shall their source resist them, yet require the branches to respect them? Apparently, one of these laws has been broken; when the king is on his throne again, can it ever grieve him to remember that when he was seemingly a private person he loyally sunk the king in the citizen and submitted to its authority?" The prince agrees with Hendon that even the king himself should obey the king's laws. This is great wisdom for a young boy to consider and agree to.

When the woman is called to testify to the worth of the pig (the contents of the stolen bundle), she tells the judge that it is worth three shillings and eightpence. At this announcement, the judge has the court cleared. Then the judge asks if the woman is aware that if the pig is indeed worth that much, the young lad must hang for his crime, for it is the law of the land that if someone steals property worth more than "thirteen pence ha'penny," one must hang. Immediately, the woman is horrified at the idea of so young a person being hanged, and she announces that the pig is worth only eight pence, in reality. As she is leaving, the constable offers to buy the pig for the eight pence. When she refuses, he blackmails her by threatening her with perjury — punishable by death. She then lets the corrupt constable have the pig for eight pence. In the meantime, Hendon has been concealed, listening to the entire transaction. The judge then gives the prince a short lecture and sentences him to a minor jail sentence, to be followed by a public flogging. As the prince is about to resist, Hendon steps forward and stays his young friend's objections. As the constable is leading the prince off to jail, Hendon asks for a word with the official; Hendon asks the constable to allow the boy to escape. The constable balks indignantly, of course, until Hendon tells him that he witnessed the constable's blackmailing the woman and getting her pig for only eight pence.

The constable maintains that he was only "jesting" with the woman, but Hendon threatens to consult the judge about the penalty for such "jesting." The constable despairs; he is well aware that the judge does not allow such abuses of the law. Hendon explains, furthermore, that such a crime is called Non compos mentis lex talionis sic transit gloria Mundi — legalistic Latin claptrap, of course, a favorite comic device of Twain. Furthermore, says Hendon, the punishment for such "jesting" is death — "death by the halter, without ransom, commutation or benefit of clergy."

The constable is horrified and promises to "turn [his] back" while the young boy escapes. In fact, he will even spend the night battering down a door to make it seem as if the lad escaped; that way, the judge won't mind because "the judge hath a loving charity for this poor lad."

Analysis

Edward Tudor continues to be exposed to various types of injustices that are rampant through his kingdom. That there should exist a law that demands that a person be put to death if he, or she, steals anything worth thirteen pence ha'penny is unjust, for the sum is a pittance. Yet since Edward cannot prove his claim to royalty, he is almost put to death — and would have been were it not for the leniency of the judge and the humanitarian feelings of the old woman who cannot conceive of so young a boy being put to death for so trivial a crime. Yet it is because of her humanitarianism and "humanitarian" blackmail that she is cheated out of the pig — when the constable threatens to have her put to death if she does not sell the pig to him, and he is threatened if he does not release Edward.

Twain's point throughout these chapters is that all kings and rulers (and presidents, we can presume) would do well to travel throughout the country disguised as an ordinary citizen. In this way, they could realize the effect of the laws of the land in all their forms — both just and unjust. However, note here that if Hendon had not overheard the constable blackmailing the old woman, he would not have been able to threaten the constable and thus attain the prince's freedom.

In addition to the bad laws and the unjust application of some of the laws, the prince does occasionally, it should be pointed out, meet upright Englishmen of fine mettle. The judge in this town is one of these men, and when the king regains his rightful throne, he will see to it that this particular judge, and others like him, are fully rewarded for their attention to, and execution of, justice in its highest sense. But, plotwise, once again were it not for a series of lucky coincidences and circumstances — a generous old woman, a lenient and just judge, the corruptness of the constable, and the shrewdness of Miles Hendon — the prince would have found himself in jail, an indignity that Twain saves for a later, more climactic chapter.

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About whom did a crowd chant, "Be gracious to us, O sweet king! / "Trample not upon thy beseeching worms, O noble majesty!" / "Pity thy slaves, and comfort them with a royal kick!"




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