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The Prince and the Pauper: Characters & Quotes

Instructor: Tina Miller

Tina earned an MFA in Creative Writing, has several published novels and short stories, and teaches English and writing.

Mark Twain's 'The Prince and the Pauper' introduces us to a bevy of characters. Who's involved in the prince's and the pauper's lives when they decide to switch roles? In this lesson, you will be introduced to important characters and quotes from the story.

The Background

What's an entire community to do when a young prince and a young pauper switch roles? They go about their business. In Mark Twain's novel, The Prince and the Pauper, we observe how a town reacts when Tom, the pauper, and Edward, the prince, switch lives. Come along as we discover the colorful characters in Twain's story and how he portrays them.

The Main Characters

It takes a village to keep two boys under disguise as they switch lives with each other. These boys are Tom Canty and Edward Tudor, and they are the main characters and protagonists of sorts in Twain's novel. These characters experience different lives, beginning at their births. Of Tom's birth, it is recognized that ''a boy was born to a poor family of the name of Canty, who did not want him.'' Quite the opposite is true of Edward's birth. ''On the same day another English child was born to a rich family of the name of Tudor, who did want him.''

While seemingly different, the boys share a similar sentiment about a life they could only dream of. Tom aspires to a life of royalty. ''His head grew to be full of these wonderful things, and many a night as he lay in the dark on his scant and offensive straw, tired, hungry, and smarting from a thrashing, he unleashed his imagination and soon forgot his aches and pains in delicious picturings to himself of the charmed life of a petted prince in a regal palace.'' Edward Tudor, the Prince of Wales, dreams of the day when he can be clothed ''in raiment like to thine, and strip my feet, and revel in the mud once, just once, with none to rebuke me or forbid, meseemeth I could forego the crown!'' Such boyish wonderment leads them on quite a peculiar adventure.

The Canty Family

John Canty, Tom's original father, oft relies on his son to beg. He does not seem to be privy to his new son's abilities. ''John Canty lost what little patience was left in him, and raised his oaken cudgel in a sudden fury over the Prince's head. The single pleader for the lad sprang to stop the man's arm, and the blow descended upon his own wrist.''

The Canty family consists of the father, the son, Bet, Nan, and the mother. We learn that ''Bet and Nan were fifteen-year-old twins. They were good-hearted girls, unclean, clothed in rags, and profoundly ignorant. Their mother was like them.''

Life as a Pauper
Life as a Pauper

The Tudor Family and Beyond

Then, there's Prince Edward's father, King Henry VIII. He grapples with his pseudo son's disposition because, well, Tom cannot speak French, a language known by the real son. ''He is mad; but he is my son, and England's heir; and, mad or sane, still shall he reign!'' Perhaps the only mad one is a father who cannot recognize that his son is actually someone else. Of course, there are more oblivious folk, Edward's sisters and cousin, whom he describes with kindness, well, maybe not Lady Mary. ''The Lady Elizabeth, my sister, is fourteen, and the Lady Jane Grey, my cousin, is of mine own age, and comely and gracious withal; but my sister the Lady Mary, with her gloomy mien and-- Look you: do thy sisters forbid their servants to smile, lest the sin destroy their souls?''

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