The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain

Teacher Guide by Bridget Baudinet

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Prince and Pauper Lesson Plans

Student Activities for The Prince and the Pauper Include:

Twain wrote The Prince and the Pauper halfway through his writing of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. A clear break from the American backwoods, The Prince and the Pauper is set in England and uses a dialect more similar to Shakespeare than to Huck Finn. Despite the difference in style, however, Twain’s voice is still evident in the book’s political commentary. The novel tells the story of the historical King Edward VI who switches lives with a young pauper for a few weeks. As Edward experiences the difficulties of life as a commoner, he recognizes the injustices of English law and later works to right them as king. The story is an exciting tale of mistaken identity and a wonderful introduction to sixteenth century English history.

The Prince and the Pauper Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

The Prince and the Pauper Plot Diagram

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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and help students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the story in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.

Example The Prince and the Pauper Plot Diagram


Young Tom Canty lives with his mother, sisters, and abusive father in Offal Court, a poverty-stricken London neighborhood. Tom faces hunger, cold, and beatings every day, but dreams of life as a prince. Just a few miles away, young Prince Edward Tudor lives in the palace with his father, King Henry VIII. The same age as Tom Canty, Edward’s life is entirely different: he is wealthy, spoiled, and powerful.


Prince Edward meets Tom at the palace gates and shows him kindness after a guard beats him. Inside the palace, Tom and Edward trade stories and swap clothes, noticing their identical appearances as they do so. When Edward leaves the palace in Tom’s clothing, the guards do not let him back in, and Tom and Edward get stuck living each other’s lives.

Rising Action

Both boys struggle to adapt to their new lives. Though they each protest that they are not who they appear to be, no one believes them. Gradually, Tom comes to enjoy life as a prince and uses his power to change unjust laws. Edward detests life with John Canty and faces poverty, pain, and death at every turn. He survives his trials only with the help of a kind-hearted noble, Miles Hendon.


Edward escapes his enemies and appears at Tom’s coronation just in the nick of time. Tom is about to be crowned king in Westminster Abbey when Edward walks up the aisle and declares he is king. When Tom agrees with him, the onlookers and royal representatives are bewildered.

Falling Action

The Lord Protector questions the boys to determine who is the true king. When he asks for the location of the long-missing Great Royal Seal, Edward identifies its location, proving that the boy in rags is the true King Edward VI.


Edward is made king and deals mercifully with his subjects. He rewards Miles and Tom for their service and rights the wrongs he noticed while living as a pauper. His time outside the palace opened his eyes to the injustices of the law, and he works to make life less brutal for his subjects.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of The Prince and the Pauper.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  3. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  4. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.
  5. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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The Prince and the Pauper Characters

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As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. When reading a novel, small attributes and details frequently become important as the plot progresses. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!

The Prince and the Pauper Characters

  • Tom Canty
  • Edward VI
  • John Canty
  • Tom’s mother
  • Uncle Hertford, the Lord Protector
  • King Henry VIII
  • The Hermit
  • Miles Hendon
  • Hugh Hendon

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.

  1. Identify the major characters in The Prince and the Pauper and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for Character Traits, How Does This Character Interact with the Main Character, and What is the Narrator's Attitude Towards This Character.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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The Prince and the Pauper Themes, Symbols, and Motifs

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the novel, and support their choices with details from the text.

The Prince and the Pauper Themes to Look For and Discuss

The Triumph of Justice

The Prince and the Pauper ends happily, largely because justice is achieved. Edward is restored to his rightful throne and those who helped him are rewarded, while those who hurt him are punished. Miles Hendon is named an earl and Tom Canty is made a Ward of the King. Hugh Hendon is thrown in prison and John Canty becomes a marked man. Edward even sees to it that kind-hearted “criminals” he met receive mercy and live happily ever after.

The Innocence of Children

While most of the adults in the book are hardened to the violence around them, the child protagonists are not. Though the adults, both royal and peasant, accept and dole out cruel punishments as part of life, both Tom and Edward step up and put a stop to it. They are horrified by some of the tortures they have never before witnessed. Tom is astounded that any government could enforce execution by boiling in oil. Edward is shocked by the heavy punishments commoners receive for small crimes. Both boys use their power to show mercy and alter English law to treat people more humanely.

The Prince and the Pauper Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss

The Great Seal

The Great Seal is a symbol of the king's authority. It was used as a mold for wax seals on documents approved by the king. The true seal indicated that the document was genuine. In The Prince and the Pauper, the seal becomes the object through which Edward proves he is king. By identifying the seal and its location, he proves his identity is genuine.


Clothing is an important motif throughout The Prince and the Pauper. Characters’ clothing symbolize their status, and society judges them accordingly. So important are clothes that the characters cannot seem to see past them. Once Tom and Edward switch their apparel, no amount of protesting convinces their families that they are not who they appear to be. In rags, Edward is considered disposable and is mocked, beaten, and thrown in prison. In royal finery, Tom is treated with deference and adulation. In the end, Twain’s focus on clothing suggests a powerful argument in favor of democracy. By switching roles, Tom and Edward prove that there is nothing inherently royal in the Tudor line. In the guise of Edward, Tom succeeds perfectly well at ruling England. Clearly, neither clothing nor social class are true measures of a person’s ability.


The Prince and the Pauper is filled with violence. From domestic to state-sponsored, violence permeates the lives of the English. Throughout the story, we see characters beaten and whipped, hear of men who were branded and lost ears, witness two women burnt at the stake, and learn of criminals sentenced to be beheaded and boiled in oil. Twain emphasizes the brutality of sixteenth-century England in order to cast Edward in a sympathetic light and highlight his gentleness as he tries to change England’s oppressive laws.

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The Prince and the Pauper Compare and Contrast

The characters of Tom and Edward are doppelgängers. Their many similarities throw their drastically different situations into stark relief. Have students use storyboards to compare and contrast the two boys. By identifying their similarities and differences, students will enter deeper into character analysis. Start with a three-column T-chart and have students choose categories to compare. These may include education, appearance, home, personality, family, or others. For each category, students should find a similarity to depict in the center column and individual differences to depict in the outside columns. The storyboard below provides an example.

Example The Prince and the Pauper Compare and Contrast

Tom CantyBoth BoysEdward VI
Tom lives in Offal Court, a dilapidated section of London filled with poverty and crime.Both boys live in or near London, England.Edward lives in luxury in Westminster Palace.
Tom receives informal lessons from an old priest who lives in Offal Court. Tom has limited access to books, but learns to read English and a little Latin.Both boys are intelligent and enjoy learning. They use their education to make wise and fair decisions.Edward is taught many subjects, including Latin, Greek, and French. He has several tutors and takes his lessons in the comfortable rooms of the palace.
Tom owns only a single, ragged outfit that he wears at all times.Aside from their clothes, the boys look nearly identical. They are doppelgängers of the same age, height, and coloring. No one can tell them apart.Edward wears regal robes of costly fabrics. He has many different suits of clothing for various occasions and is carefully dressed each morning in an elaborate ceremony.
Tom is meek and dreamy. He gets through his days as a pauper by dreaming about royalty and accepting beatings from his father and grandmother without complaint. In the castle, he shows eager obedience to the prince and is at first very timid in the castle.Both boys are kind-hearted and merciful. They make similar decisions as king, trying to enact justice and end cruelty.Due to his royal upbringing, Edward is confident and commanding. Even when confronted by dangerous men who are bigger and stronger than he is, he refuses to obey their commands.

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The Prince and the Pauper Parallel Plots

As The Prince and the Pauper follows the stories of its two separate protagonists, it makes use of parallel plots. Twain alternates the narration between Tom Canty and Edward Tudor stories, bringing them together two times: when they first switch identities and when they reunite and return to their proper roles. To help students trace the structure of this novel, use a storyboard to create a visual of the parallel stories and their points of overlap. Copy the example below as a template, or build your own. To create or alter this storyboard, start with a T-chart and use the white square shape as an overlay to cover the separate boxes and merge them into one as necessary. The same merging can be done for the headings and text boxes using Textables.

The Prince and the Pauper Parallel Plots Example

Tom's StoryEdward's Story

Tom lives with his family in Offal Court and gets through his days begging for food and trying to avoid beatings from his father and grandmother.

Prince Edward lives in the royal palace and enjoys a luxurious life of good food, quality education, obedient servants, and adoring subjects.

Tom and Prince Edward meet at the palace after the prince saves Tom from an angry guard. After discussing their different lives, the two exchange clothes for fun and discover that they look exactly alike. When the prince rushes out to scold the guards in Tom's rags, he is not allowed back in and the switch becomes permanent.

At first, Tom struggles to adjust to the grandeur and ritual of palace life, but he learns quickly and soon comes to enjoy the privileges of the palace.

Edward is captured by his "father" John Canty, and he is forced to join a band of thieves and ruffians after Canty murders a priest.

King Henry VIII dies, and it seems that Tom will become the new king. On coronation day, however, Tom sees his mother and regrets his new royal life.

After Miles Hendon helps Edward escape from the outlaws and a murderous hermit, the two are thrown into prison by Hendon's evil brother Hugh. They are released just in time to head to London for the coronation.

Tom and Edward meet again in the cathedral on Coronation Day. Both boys are eager to switch places again. Eventually, they convince the nobles that Edward is the true king, and the kingdom is set to rights again. Tom and Edward remain friends until Edward's death.

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The Prince and the Pauper Paraphrase

The dialogue in The Prince and the Pauper can be difficult for some students due to its archaic language. Twain tries to mimic the vocabulary and syntax of sixteenth century English. Storyboards can help your students understand some of the difficult language by lending visual aids to paraphrasing activities. Have students select an important or particularly difficult line of dialogue and depict its meaning in a single square. Beneath the square, have students paraphrase the line using modern English.

The Prince and the Pauper Paraphrase

Original Line

“Oh, prithee say no more; ‘tis glorious? If that I could but clothe me 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 forgo the crown!”


"Oh, please, stop! What you're saying sounds amazing! If, just once, I could wear your clothes and play in the mud without being scolded, I would give up the crown!

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Though The Prince and the Pauper is a work of fiction, it relies on real historical details about the English monarchy for its setting and characters. King Henry VIII, Prince Edward (later King Edward VI), and most of the other nobles were real historical figures. Twain’s details about the royal family were meticulously researched, but additional background may be required to enhance student understanding. Edward’s father, Henry VIII, is perhaps most notorious for his six wives. Henry sought a son to secure a male heir to the Tudor dynasty, and when his first two wives gave birth only to daughters, he went to great lengths to marry again. Making himself head of the Church of England and changing the national religion, Henry divorced his first wife and executed his second. Although his third wife, Jane Seymour, bore him Edward, she died a few days after delivery. Prince Edward, the only son, was duly cherished by the king. Historians describe Edward as intelligent and pious. Unfortunately, his reign was brief. He became king in 1547 at the age of nine and died of tuberculosis at 15. While king, he was too young to truly rule and was largely directed by the Lord Protector the Earl of Hertford, later executed and replaced by the Earl of Warwick.

Twain takes certain liberties with English history, but bases his characters’ actions and personalities on rough historical accounts. Although modern historians portray Hertford in a critical light, in Twain’s time, he was praised as a champion of the common people. He and young Edward were thus viewed as more tender-hearted and fair-minded than their ruling relations. In a letter to a friend, Twain wrote that his goal in The Prince and the Pauper was “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.” For more information on Edward VI or the history of the Tudors, visit the links below.

Essential Questions for The Prince and the Pauper

  1. What was the role of the king in sixteenth century England?
  2. How do the protagonists’ different upbringings shape their characters?
  3. How is justice achieved throughout the story?
  4. How do stereotypes about different socioeconomic classes affect the way people treat each other?
  5. Given the opportunity, would you like to trade places with someone for one day?

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•   (English) The Prince and the Pauper   •   (Español) El Príncipe y el Mendigo   •   (Français) Le Prince et le Pauvre   •   (Deutsch) Der Prinz und der Pauper   •   (Italiana) Il Principe e il Povero   •   (Nederlands) De Prins en de Pauper   •   (Português) O Príncipe e O Plebeu   •   (עברית) הנסיך והפאופר   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) الأمير وبوبر   •   (हिन्दी) राजकुमार और कंगाल   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Принц и Нищий   •   (Dansk) Prinsen og Pauperen   •   (Svenska) Prinsen och Pauperen   •   (Suomi) Prinssi ja Kerjäläispoika   •   (Norsk) Prinsen og Pauperen   •   (Türkçe) Prens ve Pauper   •   (Polski) Książę i Żebrak   •   (Româna) Prințul și Săracul   •   (Ceština) Kníže a Chudák   •   (Slovenský) Princ a Chudák   •   (Magyar) A Koldus és Királyfi   •   (Hrvatski) Princ i Pauper   •   (български) Принца и Просякът   •   (Lietuvos) Princas ir Elgeta   •   (Slovenščina) Princ in Berač   •   (Latvijas) Princis un Ubags   •   (eesti) Prince ja Vaene