WalterSmith on Aug 9th 2015 at 8:35:17 AM
Last Edited By:
WalterSmith on Aug 30th 2015 at 3:13:34 AM
Page Type: Trope
A typical trope of fairy tales and myths. Old women, wanderers and wise hooded characters may look like simple paesants, looking for shelter from the (usually) "bad weather conditions" or a hostile environment.
Under their cloak, there's soemthing much, MUCH MORE powerful than you can imagine. They can be a member of the Fair Folk, a Physical God, sometimes a Wicked Witch that wants to screw your life either with a spell or a taste of her beauty, or a King Incognito.
In the first two cases, however, these beings in disguise are portrayed as positive characters, whose Fatal Flaw is just an unexpected curiosity towards their hosts (Genre Savvy characters may notice something's fishy, and it's guaranteed they will never break their hospitality oath). If their staying is excellent, and their innkeepers were smart enough to avoid an Idiot Ball, these beggars will show their true form and thank the hosts for their kindness and selflessness. As reward they'll give as a present an Ancient Artifact, a Super Power Lottery skill or, rarely, the hand of one of their children. If not, they will unleash the fury of their wrath.
Expect the puny mortals to remain clueless about their guests' identity, even if their world or oral tradition tells about the very situation they're stuck in. If The Reveal occurs after visiting several homes, there might be a general reward and punishiment for those who either helped her/him or rejected her/him.
Since this is not a trope concerning with the character itself, but with the event caused by his or her appearence in the work, it acts as a Sub-Trope of Secret Test. It differs from God Was My Copilot and Angel Unaware for the length of their relationship with their innkeepers: in the aforementioned tropes, god-like disguided characters will spend a significant amount of time with the main characters, whereas beggars examples usually begin and end in a single day. Moreover, villains and Well-Intentioned Extremist figures may hide under the cloak of a beggar, averting the positive effects of the other tropes.
Due to the sheer power of these characters, their interactions with the main cast may occur either in a story's prologue or during its climax. In the latter case, The Reveal can also trigger a Plot Twist.
Related to God in Human Form, Beneath the Mask (if they fake their real personality), Secret Identity, God Was My Copilot, Angel Unaware, King Incognito and, if the beggar turns out to be a Wicked Witch, a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing. If the Secret Test fails, the trope overlaps with Bullying a Dragon and, consequently, Bolt of Divine Retribution, a curse, a Revenge by Proxy or a Fate Worse than Death.
- Donald Duck utilizes this trope in one story. In this story, Donald is a highly respected food critic who goes to restaurants to judge their food and determine if they deserve a star or not. In one restaurant, he first goes as himself, and after being treated like a king by the staff, he remarks that he might award them a fourth star (which would make the restaurant extremely prestigious), but needs to think about it. He then leaves, and comes back a moment later disguised as a beggar. He attempts to receive the same kind of treatment like a regular customer, but the staff scoffs him, relentlessly mocking him and suggesting that he should eat out of a bowl like a dog. Upon this outrageous treatment, Donald reveals himself and removes one of the stars, as a punishment for the staff for not treating all of their customers equally. Downplayed, for Donald was just a food critic, and not a powerful entity.
- Played With in a story from Archie Comics. Archie wants to take Veronica out to a concert but can't afford the tickets. Veronica buys them and then tries various ways for Archie to stumble across them so it seems like he's the one treating her rather than vice versa. At one point she hires a homeless man to ask Archie for the directions to Main Street. Archie tells him "you're on Main Street." The homeless man rewards him by giving the two tickets as a present, but Archie sees through the ruse and goes away after yelling at the man, who is then stuck with a quizzical look and two concert tickets.
- In Snow White And The Seven Dwarves the Evil Queen invokes the fact that Snow White's good nature would make her an obvious candidate to pass the test and so disguises herself as a beggar woman so that she will not be questioned, giving Snow White a poison apple.
- The Star Money (German: Die Sterntaler), a fairy tale by The Brothers Grimm, is all about this trope. An unnamed, orphaned girl is poor and homeless; she has only her clothing and a loaf of bread that a kindhearted soul has given her. She is a goodhearted person, however, and so she goes out into the countryside to see what might happen. She gives a hungry man her bread, and to three cold children she gives her cap, her jacket, and her dress. In a forest, she sees a naked child begging for a shift, and since it was dark and she cannot be seen, she gives her own shift away. As she stands with nothing left at all, suddenly stars fall to earth before her, becoming talers, and she finds herself wearing a different shift of the finest linen. The story ends with her being rich.
- In Where The Mountain Meets The Moon, a beggar asks to main character to buy him a peach. She does and spends the last of her money on it. He then reveals himself as the king.
- In Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters, two sisters are on their way to meet the king in hopes of marrying him. They are both stopped by a beggar and one is kind to her but the other one isn't. It turns out the beggar was the king in disguise and he marries the one who was nice to him.
- From Beauty and the Beast we have a powerful, fairy-like sorceress disguised as an old beggar. According to the trope picture and the trope quote, the unnamed prince (the future Beast) refuses to let the woman enter in his castle. Unsurprisingly, she reveals herself to the Spoiled Brat, scolds him, and as punishment, she bewitches the whole castle.
- The French movie "L'aile ou la Cuisse" starts with a restaurant owner ordering his staff to shower preferential treatment on someone he's identified as working for a food critic, completely ignoring an old woman's requests for water. While the man does work for the critic, his boss (played by Louis De Funes) was Disguised in Drag as the old woman, and gives an appropriately scathing review.
- In the third The Queen's Thief book, Gen is told a story of the king who promised the moon goddess to free a slave and never to lie while the moon was out. Years later, after the promise has been forgotten, the king himself is pulling a King Incognito and is about to lie to cover his identity just as the moon is rising, while an old beggar women stands by watching... fortunately the slave he freed, now his best friend, belts him with an amphora of wine to shut him up.
- In the Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series, this is one of the Traditional ways that Godmothers test Questors. The first book, The Fairy Godmother kicks off the second act by having Godmother Elena test three princes this way in the guise of an old beggar woman. The oldest brother road past her, and was cursed to wander for a year and a day. The middle brother tried to run Elena down with his horse and was turned into an ass. The youngest brother passed the test by sharing his food with Elena and offering to give her a ride, and was given the clues he needed to successfully complete his quest for the hand of a princess.
- Undercover Boss features a "real life" variant. The C.E.O. of a corporation pretends to be an entry-level, usually incompetent, employee, to see how regular employees live. The end of each episode has the boss reveal to a select group of tested employees their real identity. Good employees often get raises and grants. Bad employees can find themselves fired.
- Greek Mythology: Zeus and Hermes disguised themselves as beggars and went from house to house, with everyone refusing them food and shelter except Philemon and Baucis, who even wanted to kill their guardian goose to properly welcome the gods. To reward the old couple, Zeus destroyed the town but spared their house, turning it into a temple, and when they died, turning both of them into trees.
- From Norse Mythology, Odin plays straight this trope during his trips on Midgard ("Middle-Earth", the realm of humankind). His usual shape was similar to Gandalf's: a tall, long-bearded man with a Cool Hat and a wide coat. One of the best ways to recognise him was looking at this eyes. If one of them was missing, it was certain that was him. Averted by Loki and Thor during their staying at Tjalfe and Roskva's home, where they introduced themselves without hiding their godhood. In both cases, the three gods tend to chat a lot with their mortal hosts, and it is quite rare they manage to anger them.
- There's a Chilean folk tale about God, disguised as a beggar that visits a woman's house. When he arrives, notices the smell of the woman's cooking, but she says that the only thing to eat are toads and snakes, then he hears the laughter of her kids and asks her to see them, but she says that what he hears are goats. When the woman dismisses the beggar and goes inside, she watches in horror how her stew turned into toads and snakes and her kids into goats.
- Popular tales about Polish king Casimir III the Great ascribe him the habit of wandering in beggar's disguise and asking for food. After such a visit he always re-visited said people with his whole court and revealing the results of previous test to public.
- Saint Martin of Tours, one of the most popular Catholic saints, was converted after having shared his cape with a freezing beggar, who turned out to be Jesus.
- In La Cenerentola (Rossini's version of "Cinderella"), the prince's tutor Alidoro visits Don Magnifico's house disguised as a beggar. The two stepsisters try to shoo him away, but Cinderella gives him bread and coffee. Alidoro then reports to the prince that a suitable bride can be found in that household and later returns to give Cinderella a dress for the ball, taking the place of the fairy godmother.
- In Dokapon Kingdom there is a random event that has an old beggar ask for money; there is a chance it's actually the Goddess of Generoustiy in disguise.
- In 1992 Ruth Reichl, the food critic for The New York Times, visited a famous and expensive restaurant, Le Cirque, in disguise as an ordinary tourist. When she was in disguise she was given extremely rude service; when the staff recognized who she was (in the middle of her fourth visit), suddenly everything improved. She gave the restaurant a scathing review, contrasting her treatment before and after they realized who she was.
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