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Literature / The Princess and the Pea

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"The Princess and the Pea" (Danish: "Prindsessen paa ærten"; "Prinsessen på ærten" in modern orthography) is a Fairy Tale by Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen about a young woman whose claim to being a real princess is tested by placing a pea under her mattresses. The tale likely had its source in folk material although the original source of the story is a bit obscure. The story was first published in 1835. It has been adapted to various media including musical comedy and television drama.

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A prince at the age of marriage travels about the world searching for a real princess but returns home disappointed. One evening, a young woman claiming to be a princess seeks shelter from a storm in the prince's castle. The prince's mother decides to test her claim by placing one (or three) peas on her bedstead, underneath twenty mattresses and twenty feather beds. The following morning their young guest tells her hosts she simply could not sleep because there was a terrible lump in her bed. The prince rejoices, for only a real princess would be so sensitive. They marry and live happily ever after.

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"The Princess and the Pea" has examples of:

  • Adaptational Villainy: The Queen is usually made a villain in adaptations, often intentionally setting the princesses up to fail or at least wanting to control her son.
    • The Russian film has a Bait-and-Switch. At first, the Queen is sympathetic towards the princess and the King is the one suspicious of the girl. Then a throwaway line implies the Queen was the princess from the original fairy tale and that her mother-in-law really was an Evil Matriarch.
  • Engagement Challenge: An uncommon gender-reversed example.
  • Happily Ever After: Once the beautiful young woman is revealed to be a princess, she and her prince get married.
  • Honorary Princess: Maybe: it remains unknown if the heroine is an actual princess on the run, and the pea under the mattresses reveals her as such. Or, if she thinks of herself worthy of being a princess when asked if she is one, and by coincidence has the sensitive skin of a royal girl. Regardless, even if she supposedly wasn't a princess she still would've become one at the end.
    • Admittedly, some older versions have the heroine be a peasant girl who is warned beforehand by a cat or dog to say she had a bad night's sleep. Then again, some versions have the cat or dog reveal she was a princess this whole time, anyway.
  • Impossible Task: To detect a tiny lump through a ridiculous amount of bedding.
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  • The Musical: Once Upon a Mattress, an Affectionate Parody.
  • Royal Blood: Suggested to be why the princess passes the mattress test.
  • Secret Test: The pea under the mattress to determine whether the young lady really is as tender-skinned as a princess would be.
  • Women Are Delicate: Or at least the real princess should be, as that's the entire point of the title.

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