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Old Beggar Test

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A powerful character disguises himself or herself as a beggar and sets off a SecretTest.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
WalterSmith on Aug 9th 2015 at 8:35:17 AM
Last Edited By:
WalterSmith on Aug 30th 2015 at 3:13:34 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: Trope

"Please, take this rose in exchange for shelter from the bitter cold!"

"But then, one winter's night,
An old beggar woman came to the castle
And offered him a single rose
In return for shelter from the bitter cold.
Repulsed by her haggard appearance,
The Prince sneered at the gift,
And turned the old woman away.
But she warned him not to be deceived by appearances,
And when he dismissed her again,
The old woman's ugliness melted away
To reveal a beautiful Enchantress.
The Prince tried to apologize, but it was too late,
For she had seen that there was no love in his heart.
And as punishment,
She transformed him into a hideous beast,
And placed a powerful spell on the castle,

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.

But they're not what they seem to be.

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.


Examples

Comic Book

  • 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.

Fairy Tales

  • 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.

Film Animated

Film Live Action

  • 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.

Literature

  • 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.

Live-Action TV

  • 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.

Mythology And Folklore

  • 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.
    • Genre Savvy Athena turns Odysseus into a beggar in order to make him look harmless to the many suitors at home and let him exploit the Sacred Hospitality rule . Under this form he figures out Penelope has been remaining unmarried for several years since his departure and how to outwit his foes.
  • 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.

Theatre

  • 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.

Videogames

  • 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.

Real Life

  • 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.

Feedback: 42 replies

Aug 9th 2015 at 9:00:55 AM

Jesus Test, Sheep And Goats Test or The Samaritan Test if you want to go Biblical. Surely the story of the sheep and the goats and the good samaritan are well known enough, and it was something Jesus did a lot.

Aug 9th 2015 at 9:05:09 AM

It may include biblical stories, but it would better work as a general trope.

Aug 9th 2015 at 9:07:15 AM

^ for the name. It needs a much better name.

example:

  • 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.

Aug 9th 2015 at 9:09:49 AM

If you think you can hatch up one good example, I'm waiting. Meanwhile, I've put a Magic X trope name.

Aug 9th 2015 at 9:20:24 AM

name examples - see first comment.

their bible stories:

The Sheep And The Goats - God disguised himself as a homeless either beggar man, pregnant woman, or small child. Vulnerable and homeless. People would either help this person when asked, or not. Everyone that was asked was gathered by God, and split into "sheep" and "goats". He said that the goats had ignored His call for help and so would not be granted everlasting heaven, but the sheep did not and so would live with Him. The goats did protest, that they had never seen God to ignore Him, but God replied that He is in everyone and by not helping a person in need they are doing so to Him.

The Good Samaritan - A Samaritan helped a man who was left mugged on the road to Jericho. A Levite and a priest had crossed the road, but the Samaritan - whose people were enemies of the land - picked him up, paid for his inn, food, donkey, and medicine.

both invoke, and mention: "Love your neighbour as yourself".

Aug 9th 2015 at 12:23:04 PM

The current title is obtuse as heck to anyone who isn't Christian. Remeber that this is an international and multi religious wiki and try to avoid titles that are specific to one subgroup.

Aug 9th 2015 at 12:43:09 PM

Though I did believe that the story of the Sheep and the Goats had worked its way into popular knowledge as much as the parable of the Good Samaritan, I still would say that if either of the two were to be referenced, the Good Samaritan would likely be better because it is (as far as I'm aware) a fixture of common knowledge and a tale that many may not know is from the Bible (much like The Golden Rule).

Aug 9th 2015 at 12:59:41 PM

I have never heard of the sheep and the goats story. Not once, and I consume a lot of media. Sorry.

The story of the Good Samaritan has worked its way into popular culture too well. It will attract misuse of the sort that stock phrases tend to get as calling someone a Good Samaritan had much broader implications than this trope does. It gets used for everyone from the person who opens the door for you. The guy who catches your hat when it blows away. A woman who starts a soup kitchen.

It's basically used catch all term for anyone who does anything nice for anyone else ever for any reason. Which is useless as a trope definition. It's just too broad a term to use as a trope name. I can assure you that every time anyone mentions a good Samaritan in fiction, ever, it will get shoe horned in, if it fits the trope or not.

This is often the problem with using names from Christian parables. Either they're so obscure that no one who isn't Christian knows them, or they're so common that they've been distorted to meaninglessness by the preponderance of Christian sects all have completely different opinions on what they mean and pop-culture's tendency to distort anything religious until it's unrecognisable.

How about Old Beggar Test for the form this trope usually takes?

Aug 9th 2015 at 1:18:51 PM

  • 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.

Aug 9th 2015 at 5:33:14 PM

You'll need to find some way to distinguish this from Angel Unaware, God Was My Copilot, and King Incognito.

Aug 9th 2015 at 7:03:38 PM

^ Yeah, those seem to cover it.

Aug 9th 2015 at 7:11:17 PM

^^ The first of those is for any angel operating undercover. They may use this trope, but they aren't forced to. It's a character trope. This YKTTW is a plot trope.

The second is specific to a deity running around with the group. Again, they may do some secret test of character, but they aren't forced to.

The last is a trope about anyone powerful running around incognito. They may use this test of character, they don't have to. It's also a character trope, not a plot trope. There also isn't always that reveal with this trope of who the person really is. Sometimes it's just a kindly old woman who gives advice. It also misses that the King Incognito can be hiding their identity just so they can bang a lot of men without anyone finding out.

Also, not a single one of those tropes is about tests of character. None of them. This is a plot that doesn't require any of those tropes to happen, and none of those tropes require this one. Though I admit, that the person giving the test is often a King Incognito, it doesn't have to be.

Aug 10th 2015 at 4:28:05 AM

Both the Laconic and the Description refer to this being a Secret Test Of Character.

Secret Test Of Character has a very specific description (see the first three paragraphs of that page) and is not this trope.

This is actually a Sub Trope of Secret Test.

Aug 10th 2015 at 4:34:27 AM

  • Examples section
    • Added a line separating the Description and Examples sections.
    • Added the word "Examples".
    • Deleted unnecessary Pot Holing in the Beauty and the Beast example.

Aug 10th 2015 at 4:47:07 AM

  • In the third The Queens 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.

Aug 10th 2015 at 10:27:30 AM

I fixed some of the ambiguous paragraphs.

Aug 10th 2015 at 11:43:08 AM

I think test is a better word to use than trial. Trial tends to mean court case in most people's heads.

Aug 10th 2015 at 2:16:19 PM

  • Donald Duck utilizes it 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.

Aug 10th 2015 at 2:43:04 PM

The prince in Beauty And The Beast doesn't have a name. Some animator suggested it might be Adam, be even that person said it was more a supposition than anything official (as in doesn't even fall into Word Of God).

Aug 10th 2015 at 2:51:59 PM

^ This is true. Even when he shows up in other Disney media he's always called Beast.

Aug 10th 2015 at 10:18:02 PM

I must ask, why does this even need to be some powerful, supernatural entity? I think it should cover any kind of unexpectedly high profile/authority person, even if they're of mundane origins. Unless we already have a trope for that?

Aug 10th 2015 at 10:49:35 PM

^ It doesn't and the definition doesn't say it does. In fact, it explicitly covers what you're looking for. King Incognito, one of the listed options, covers any unexpectedly high profile/authority person, even if they're of mundane origins. Also, we already have an example that uses a food critic.

Aug 10th 2015 at 11:03:05 PM

  • 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.
  • 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.

Aug 10th 2015 at 11:16:55 PM

  • 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

Aug 11th 2015 at 2:05:04 AM

Fairy Tale:

  • 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.

Aug 11th 2015 at 2:15:59 AM

  • The Oscar Wilde short story "The Star Child" includes the birth parents of the title character both taking on the poor beggar disguise. The title character is found in a forest by a poor woodcutter, who brings the child home and persuades his wife to take him in (over her initial objections). This child, whose appearance and wrappings mark him out, grows into a haughty and self-important young person. His birth parents first meet him in the guises of old and ugly beggars and claim him as theirs, and he dismisses them. After much character-building, including a period in which the Star Child loses his own handsome appearance, he has a change of heart and his parents reveal themselves as not only comely, but also wealthy and powerful.

Aug 11th 2015 at 8:23:44 AM

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 says congratulations, you've won the secret camera prize of two tickets to a concert! 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.

Aug 11th 2015 at 5:40:33 PM

  • 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.

Aug 12th 2015 at 7:34:29 AM

^Does this example have relevant consequences?

Aug 12th 2015 at 2:00:36 PM

  • Played with in The Simpsons, in an episode parodying the story of Joan of Arc. Lisa/Joan goes to visit the king of France (Mayor Quimby), but Lisa refuses to keel in front of him because God told her that the real King is disguised as a peasant (Millhouse). Millhouse then assumed his place at the throne and Quimby goes back to his real job as a vibrating foot rest.

Aug 12th 2015 at 2:09:19 PM

^ That's not played with. That's another trope entirely, and a common one. Not sure if it has a page, but it should.

Aug 12th 2015 at 2:14:58 PM

^ &^^ You'll probably find a mention of that on the Joan Of Arc page, then.

Aug 12th 2015 at 7:37:25 PM

  • 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.

I prefer Old Beggar Test to The Old Beggar Test. I dislike articles at the start of trope names.

Aug 13th 2015 at 8:44:09 AM

  • 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

Aug 13th 2015 at 9:19:32 AM

Theatre

  • 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.

Aug 13th 2015 at 10:28:26 PM

This appears in countless folk tales. It seems to be a common theme crossing various cultures.

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.

Aug 14th 2015 at 6:52:02 AM

I added a little detail to the Cenerentola entry.

Aug 21st 2015 at 1:06:25 PM

I think this is getting close to launchable state.

Aug 21st 2015 at 8:14:05 PM

  • Real Life: 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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