In the year 1537, Tom has always dreamed of a better life, and Edward is fascinated by Tom's lifestyle. When they exchange clothes just for fun, they accidentally end up mistaken for each other, and the boys become forced into each other's everyday situation. Tom has matters of national importance to attend to and has a hard time adjusting to court life, and Prince Edward finds out just how hard an urchin's life is.
The book has been adapted to film many times. A 1937 black and white film adaptation starred twin brothers Billy and Bobby Mauch with Errol Flynn as Miles Hendon and Claude Rains as the villainous Earl of Hartford. A 1977 British version, renamed Crossed Swords in the United States, starred Mark Lester in a dual role with Oliver Reed as Miles Hendon and Charlton Heston as Henry VIII. A 1990 animated cartoon short of the same name stars Mickey Mouse as both the prince and the pauper, but one of them is captured by the captain of the guards, Pete, along with Donald Duck (just before Goofy rescues them). A 2004 animated movie version had Barbie as the princess and the pauper (the 2004 Lionsgate DVD release is long out of print but the 2010 Universal DVD re-issue is still available). A 2007 updated live-action version stars twins Dylan and Cole Sprouse (TV's The Suite Life of Zack and Cody) alongside Kay Panabaker (Fame) as their ultra cute versions of Tom Canty and Prince Edward. A most recent version had Ross Lynch and Maia Mitchell who accidentally switch places with Garrett Clayton and Grace Phipps, hence the official name of Teen Beach Movie, shown on the Disney Channel, as a beach-side adaption of the classic story.
Tropes used by the novel:
- Abusive Parents: John Canty is a drunkard and brute who terrorizes his wife, son and daughters. Tom's grandmother is just as bad, often encouraging Tom's father to do it.
- Acquired Situational Narcissism: Tom Canty suffers a bit of this as a result of becoming king. Then again, who can blame him?
- Author Tract: Living in an age when the legal system was under the domination of the new rich, Twain dropped a few anvils about the dangers of a legal system written strictly to benefit the upper class.
- Barefoot Poverty: Tom has no shoes, but his feet have long since hardened on the streets of London. Edward, in his place, soon finds his soft feet bleeding.
- Cassandra Truth: Both Tom and Edward realize they've made a huge mistake after just a short time of living each other's life, but no one believes them, thinking them to be either insane or under a huge amount of stress.
- Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: Miles Hendon falls in with the Prince and devotes himself to helping the 'poor mad boy'. Played with, obviously, because The Cloud Cuckoo Lander Was Right.
- Deadly Distant Finale / Foregone Conclusion: As mentioned in the epilogue, the real Edward VI died at the age of fifteen. Oh, and cute little Jane Grey was decapitated shortly afterward.
- Disproportionate Retribution: The book is laden with examples of Tudor "justice" - the horror stories that the Prince hears and the other punishments that he witnesses do much to turn him from a nice but clueless Ivory Tower dweller into a determined agent for reform and mercy once he returns to his throne. Even Tom Canty uses his borrowed power to undo a few bits of legal barbarism.
- Doppelgänger: Seriously, how is it that two kids are exactly alike?
- Emergency Impersonation: Tom has to pose as the prince. The prince's father, Henry VIII, thinks he's actually the Prince suffering from Laser-Guided Amnesia and commands him to 'behave normally', and Tom Canty wouldn't dream of disobeying his monarch.
- Fish out of Water: Both Tom and Edward, for different reasons. The former sees what the upper class is truly like, and the latter sees how horrible the underclasses have it.
- Gone Horribly Right: Tom and Edward's dreams of living each others' lives for a short time. They get the opportunity, albeit seeing that each other side of the fence has its own drawbacks.
- Grass Is Greener: Played entirely straight with regard to the Prince, who thinks Tom Canty's life sounds like fun until he has to live it. Zigzagged a bit in Tom's case; at first he's miserable and frightened, but he gradually gets used to his new life and dreads having to become a pauper again, until seeing his mother snaps him out of it and he begs to have his old life back.
- Have a Gay Old Time: The text uses 'ejaculated' (in the sense of 'exclaimed') and 'orgies' (in the sense of 'drunken debauchery') often.
- Hidden Purpose Test: Tom conducts one using Reverse Psychology to prove an alleged witch and her daughter innocent. Not that he thought it through: he just thought seeing a genuine witch cast a spell would be neat.
- Historical Domain Character: Edward, Elizabeth, Mary, Jane... There's a lot. The text even notes the real Edward VI died at the age of fifteen.
- Identical Stranger: Tom Canty looks exactly like Prince Edward. Perhaps not the Ur-Example, but assuredly the Trope Maker.
- Intergenerational Friendship: Miles Hendon and Edward.
- King Incognito: Edward ends up in the role of a street urchin, assuming it will be entertaining. Reality proceeds to assure him that it's not fun at all.
- Mock Millionaire: Tom really isn't quite sure what to do with all of his newfound money and power. It won't stop him from enjoying it.
- Mutual Envy: This is why the prince and the pauper decide to switch places in Mark Twain's novel and its retellings.
- Prince and Pauper: Trope Namer. A beggar and a prince swap places for a day, thinking the other's life must be grand. They quickly find out they really shouldn't have swapped places; the beggar realizes the intense political pressure that a king is under, and the king sees the injustices and hardships that common people have to go through.
- Princess for a Day: Actually for a period of a few months. Tom becomes king in Edward's place, though he's way out of his depth.
- Rags to Riches: Tom goes from a street urchin begging for coins to the king of England thanks to a misunderstanding. At the end of the story, he also ends up as the King's Ward, so he'll never be poor again.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Edward, and Tom in his place. This trope also guides Edward's character development, from a well-meaning yet ignorant prince to a just and noble king.
- Sheltered Aristocrat: Edward doesn't really know how much people in his country are struggling, and really do much on his own. It's only when he sees it all firsthand that the troubles of the lower classes are drilled into his head.
- Shown Their Work: As he did with his Joan of Arc novel, Twain used all the historical documentation he could find. The text is heavily footnoted, including the atrocities Edward witnesses in the prison-yard. He doesn't provide a translation for the now-unintelligible song sung by the beggars in chapter 17; it's about a woman whose clothes were stolen, the thief caught and hung. Twain got it from Francis Kirkman's The English Rogue; the translation's in a later book, Musa Pedestris.
- Street Urchin: Tom, who lives in a house among many other mouths to feed.
- Swapped Roles: One of the oldest and most famous examples, where a street urchin and a king swap places out of misguided desires to see how the other side lives.
- Twin Switch: The two lookalikes temporarily switch places to see what each other's life is like.
- Unbuilt Trope: Despite the Prince and Pauper trope being used in future works, both the "Prince" and the "Pauper" in this trope-naming story try to tell the truth about what they've done very early on, but no one believes them. The two also only intended to swap clothes and nothing else, but circumstances lead them to being forced into switching places for a while. The story also shows them character development for both the prince and the pauper, learning to appreciate what they have while seeing how the other side doesn't have it as good as they believed.
- Un-person: Hugh tries to make his brother Miles into this.
- Wise Beyond Their Years: Both Edward and Tom are awfully intelligent young men, the former being well-educated and the latter having good street smarts and empathy.
Tropes found in the 1937 film:
- Actually Pretty Funny: Tom using the Great Seal for a nutcracker got everyone, including the Archduke, laughing after a moment. (This is in the book, and was considered the final proof for anyone who doubted that Tom wasn't the real king.)
- Adaptational Villainy / Historical Villain Upgrade: After the prince is born, Henry cruelly tells Jane Seymour she no longer has any reason to exist. Say what you will of Henry VIII, it's known that he absolutely adored his third wife.
- Match Cut: Between the Prince of Wales newborn in his bed, and the newborn pauper boy in his.