The Prince and the Pauper

by Mark Twain

Page 1 of 5


About the Novel

The Prince and the Pauper (1882), along with A Tramp Abroad and Life on the Mississippi, was written by Mark Twain as he put aside The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn after working through the first sixteen chapters. Its style, however, differs greatly from the Mark Twain most students have encountered in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Instead of the folksy dialectical mastery Twain shows in that novel, his style in this book recalls that of Dickens, packed with setting and character description that makes 16th-century England come to life. Both authors share biting realism cloaked in humor, effective political commentary, and an uncanny means of creating pathos in the reader.

Pauper recalls the lighter tone of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), but retains the political edge that is unmistakably Twain. During Mark Twain's writing of The Prince and the Pauper, he wrote to William Dean Howells:

My idea is to afford a realizing sense of the exceeding severity of the laws of that day by inflicting some of their penalties upon the King himself and allowing him a chance to see the rest of them applied to others – all of which is to account for a certain mildness which distinguished Edward VI's reign from those that preceded and followed it (Notebook 34, 377).

The novel gets its realism from extensive research using Hume's History of England, Timbs' Curiosities of England, and Dr. J. Hammond Trumbull's Blue Laws, True and False. There are anachronisms; however, these do not detract from the overall effect of the book.

Because of the parallels to Dickens' themes and style as well as the excellent background into the Tudor period of England, The Prince and the Pauper is recommended for students of British as well as American literature.

About This Teacher's Guide

This guide is organized with sections for each of three phases of teaching the novel: Before Reading the Novel, While Reading the Novel, and After Reading the Novel. The suggested pre-reading activities involve students with ideas that are pertinent to the novel and facilitate their engagement with it.

The largest section offers a variety of activities and information for guiding the students during their reading. Organized by chapters, this section provides summaries, historical notes, questions, vocabulary study, quotations, and assorted activities. Although every chapter does not necessarily incorporate each of these features, there are ample suggestions to encourage reading and enhance understanding.

• The Summaries are intended to help the teacher keep track of the narrative progression.
• The Historical Notes can aid understanding of matters that are generally remote for today's readers. The information for these notes was gathered from the University of California edition of The Prince and the Pauper (1984).
• Questions may be used for whole-class discussion, for individual writing, or group activities.
• Vocabulary words are listed with the page number of their first use in the text. Many of these words are older, courtly English expressions, and many archaic words have been defined. When possible, students should ascertain definitions through context. Less able students may benefit from a review of these words prior to their reading of the respective chapters, while more able readers may be able to handle them when encountered in context.
• Quotations, like the questions, may be discussed by the whole class or handled in small groups or individually.
• The Activities are a set of suggestions from which the teacher may choose. It probably will be too time-consuming to use all the activities. Also, some may be delayed and used as part of the post-reading experiences.

The section titled After Reading the Novel offers means of pulling together the reading experience by examining various themes found in the novel. As noted above, some of the activities listed earlier may be used at this time.

Finally, a bibliography is presented to assist those who wish to pursue interests more extensively.


Language Activities

1. Research changes in the English language, especially in spelling and pronunciation, from the 16th century to present day.
2. Create a translation of Hugh Latimer's letter at the Preface of the Signet Classic edition of The Prince and the Pauper, using standard English.
3. Compare the differences in spelling, and develop spelling rules for 16th-century England. Write a note to their friends using these rules.
4. Discuss the importance of Latin in the workings of British government and in the everyday life of British royalty.

Research Activities

1. Research the House of Tudor. This novel involves four characters who served as rulers of England: Henry VIII, Lady Jane Grey, Mary, and Edward VI. What were their reputations as rulers?
2. What role did the Duke of Norfolk have in the reign of Henry VIII? Why is he an important figure?
3. What kind of life did common people of 16th-century England lead? What recreational activities did they have? What kind of professions existed during this time? What were living conditions like?
4. Research punishments of 16th-century England. Why would this be an important part of common life?

Thematic Activities

1. What role does punishment play in the lives of people today? How does it vary from one country to another? Iraq? USA? China?
2. How much and what kinds of differences are there between the lives of the "rich and famous" and ordinary people? Are they treated equally in our courts?
3. Given the opportunity, who would you like to trade places with for one day? What would you do? Why would you want to make this switch? How would that person fit into your world?
4. What current stereotypes of different socioeconomic classes exist? Role-play each stereotype and give examples of how the media perpetuate them.

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