They are the same age. They look alike. In fact, there is but one difference between them: Tom Canty is a child of the London slums; Edward Tudor is heir to the throne of England. Just how insubstantial this difference is becomes all too clear when a chance encounter leads to an exchange of clothing—and of roles. . .with the pauper caught up in the pomp and folly of the royal court, and the prince wandering horror-stricken through the lower depths of sixteenth-century English society.
Out of the theme of switched identities Mark Twain fashioned both a scathing attack upon social hypocrisy and injustice, and an irresistible comedy imbued with the sense of high-spirited play that belongs to his happiest creative period. The Prince and the Pauper is, in the words of Kenneth S. Lynn, ". . .expressive of its author's genius. Indeed, nothing he ever wrote, not even Huckleberry Finn, introduces us to more of the themes that preoccupied—and finally obsessed—Mark Twain's imagination."