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Selasa, 12 Mei 2009

The Prince and the Pauper

The Prince and the Pauper

Tom Canty, youngest son of a family of beggars living with the dregs of society in Offal Court, has always had aspirations to a better life, encouraged by the local priest who has taught him to read and write. He hangs around the palace gates one day and sees the Prince (the Prince of Wales - Edward the Sixth). Tom is nearly caught and beaten by the Royal Guards, but Edward stops them and invites Tom into his palace chamber. There, the two boys get to know one another, somewhat - and each becomes fascinated by the other's lifestyle, and even more fascinated by the fact that they each bear an amazing and uncanny resemblance to each other. They decide to switch clothes (and thereby, lives) "temporarily". Edward leaves in rather a hurry, before the boys are caught at their game, first quickly putting away an article of national importance which we later learn is the Great Seal of England. Soon Prince Edward is attempting to escape from the brutality of Tom's abusive and drunken father, while Tom posing as the prince, is attempting to cope with court customs and manners. His fellow nobles and palace personnel think "the prince" is suffering an illness that has caused memory loss and fear he will go mad. They repeatedly question him about the missing "Great Seal", but he knows nothing about it. However, when Tom is asked to sit in on judgments, his common-sense observations reassure them that he is of sound mind.
Edward soon encounters Miles Hendon, a soldier and nobleman returning from war. While Miles does not believe Edward's claims to royalty, he humors him and becomes his protector. Meanwhile, news reaches them that King Henry VIII has died and Edward is now the rightful king.
As Edward experiences the brutish life of a pauper first hand, he becomes aware of the stark class inequalities in England at that time. In particular, he realizes the harsh and punitive nature of the English judicial system, witnessing women burned at the stake, pilloring, and flogging. He becomes aware that the accused are convicted on the flimsiest of evidence and branded, dismembered, boiled in oil or hung for petty offenses. He vows to reign with mercy when he regains his rightful place. When he unwisely declares before a gang of thieves that he really is the king and will put an end to unjust laws, they assume he is insane, and hold a mock coronation.
After a series of adventures, including a stint in prison, Edward manages to interrupt the coronation (with some much-needed help from Miles), just as Tom is about to celebrate it as the new King Edward the Sixth. Tom is eager to give up the throne, but the nobles refuse to believe that the beggarly child the real Edward appears to be, is the rightful king, until Edward produces the Great Seal that he had hidden before leaving the palace. Tom declares that if anyone had bothered to describe the Seal he could have produced it at once, since he had found it inside a decorative suit of armor where Edward had hidden it, and had been using it to crack nuts.
Edward and Tom finally switch back, and 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. As for Tom, in gratitude for supporting the new King's claim to the throne, Edward names him "The King's Ward," a privileged position he holds for the rest of his life. In the end, they all live happily for quite some time. The afterword mentions that Edward died at a young age (which is an inescapable historical fact - Edward having been an actual historical personage).

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