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, and all who lived there."
A typical trope of fairy tales and myths. Old women, wanderers and wise hooded characters may look like simple peasants, looking for shelter from the (usually) "bad weather conditions" or a hostile environment.
Under their cloak, there's something much, MUCH MORE powerful than you can imagine. They can be members of the Fair Folk, a Physical God, sometimes a Wicked Witch that wants to screw your life with either 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 that 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 Superpower 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 visits to several homes, there might be a general reward and punishiment for those who either helped or rejected them.
Since this is not a trope concerned with the character itself, but with the event caused by their appearance in the work, it acts as a Sub-Trope of Secret Test of Character. 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, Honest Axe 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. Compare Character Witness and Karmic Jackpot.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: After Manjoume left Duel Academy in disgust after a second humiliating loss to Misawa, he ended up shipwrecked and near North Academy, Duel Academy's rival school, which was situated in an arctic tundra. He was told by a disheveled man by the door that they wouldn't let anyone in without a full deck of forty cards, and there were cards hidden around the area; he himself had found 39, but was too exhausted to keep looking. Because the man refuses to sell them, Manjoume goes out and searches for his own, finding forty of them; but when he fears the man might freeze to death, he gives him one so he can go in (fibbing and saying he has 41). When the man goes in, Manjoume wonders what he's going to do now; and suddenly he sees another card, which later becomes essential to winning a duel later in the episode. He later finds out that this was a Secret Test of Character; the guy was North Academy's chancellor.
- Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
- Used in one story with Donald Duck. 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.
- Donald is just as likely to do the same mistakes himself, though. In another comic, he works as the head waiter at a prestigious restaurant and is warned that a food critic is going to show up. He quickly identifies the critic as the well-dressed man who keeps fussing over the cutlery, and spoils him massively while disregarding and unknowingly mistreating another, ordinary-looking customer (seating him in the back by the kitchen door, giving him the wrong entrees and drinks, stealing his tablecloth because it was cleaner than the critic's). Predictably, the mistreated customer turns out to be the critic, and is livid over his horrid treatment... whereas the well-dressed man turns out to be a silver-polish salesman who wants to give Donald a deal on something to clean up their filthy cutlery with.
- 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.
- A mundane version of this trope occurs in The Simpsons comic "To Heir is Homer", when Homer finds a dishevelled-looking old man in his car and invites him to join the family for dinner that evening. The man in question is actually Sam Duff, millionaire owner of the Duff Brewery, and in thanks for the family's kindness he rewards them by adding Homer to his will, bequeathing him 51% of the shares in the brewery.
- In The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, the Fool's brothers ignore the strange old beggar at the side of the road, and are never heard from again. The Fool greets the beggar kindly and shares his lunch, and the man tells the Fool where to find the flying ship.
- 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 the 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.
- The Unfavorite hero of The Golden Goose shares his humble lunch with a hermit, after his two older brothers snubbed the same hermit and suffered nasty wood-cutting accidents. Not only does the hermit turn the hero's dry bread and water into cakes and wine as a sign of gratitude, but he tells him where to find the eponymous golden goose.
- In The Water of Life, the king's two older sons are rude to the dwarf when he asks what they are doing, and are magically trapped; the youngest is polite, and is told how to get what he's after.
- In Jesper Who Herded the Hares, the three brothers set out with a dozen beautiful pearls and each met an old woman. She asks what they are carrying, and the first two lie and discover at the castle that it became true. The youngest tells the truth and gets a magic whistle, too.
- In The Twelve Dancing Princesses, the hero generally has to have done some good for the old woman to get the knowledge how to save the princesses.
- In The Three Little Birds, two brothers in turn encounter an old woman on their quests and tell her she will have no luck fishing where she is. Their sister follows them and tells her, "May God bless your fishing," and so learns how to complete the quest and save her brothers.
- Slavonic fairy tales have a fairly frequent twist where the hero rudely brushes off the old man or woman met on the way, hits himself for being such an idiot, and rushes back to beg forgiveness and plead that he was deeply troubled.
- In Beauty and the Beast, a prince is being asked for shelter from the cold by a beggar woman who's actually an enchantress in disguise. The prince refuses, even after she warns him "not to be deceived by appearances", and she curses him to be a beast until he learns how to love and grow out of his selfishness.
- The French movie The Wing or the Thigh 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 Funès) was Disguised in Drag as the old woman, and gives an appropriately scathing review.
- In The Cobbler, this trope builds the backstory of how the magical shoe-stitcher device became the cobbler family's heirloom. Max' father recounts the story in the beginning of the movie:
Abraham: A long time ago, on the coldest of winter nights, a vagrant came knocking at the door of our shop. Your great-great-grandfather gave him shelter when no one else would. He fed the man, mended his shoes... In the morning, the vagrant was gone but in his place was this stitcher machine.
- In Cinderella (2015), the Fairy Godmother first appears to Ella as an old beggar woman, she doesn't reveal her true self until after Ella has shown her kindness by getting her a drink even while she was miserable from not being allowed to go to the ball.
- The first time Luke (and the audience) meets Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda looks like an annoying local inhabitant of Dagobah, telling Luke he knows "how to find [this great Jedi Warrior]." If you watched from episode 1, you wouldn't be surprised later.
- In The Odyssey, one of the purposes of Odysseus pretending to be an old beggar on his return to Ithaca is to test the character of his servants. The way they treat the beggar and talk about Odysseus and Penelope enables him to determine whom to use as allies in the final battle and who will be punished (i. e. killed). He even tries to warn one of the suitors who behaves decently to the beggar.
- In Oscar Wilde's short story "The Star-Child", a child is found in a forest just after a shooting star is seen in the sky. One of the woodcutters who finds the child takes him home and convinces his wife to help raise him along with their own children. The boy is handsome, but grows to be rude and arrogant. His birth mother appears on the scene in the guise of a beggar, and he rejects her. Then he turns ugly and is rejected by his friends, prompting him to go in search of his mother. Along the way, he is enslaved and aids a man with leprosy three times, though each time his master beats him for it. After the third occasion, he magically recovers his good looks and meets the leper and the beggar woman again. It turns out the leper is his father in disguise, just as his mother appeared to be a beggar woman, and both of them the wealthy rulers of a kingdom (and he of course is their son and heir). But then because of how much turmoil he'd gone through, he winds up dying after only three short years and is succeeded by a ruler who's cruel and evil.
- 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 rode 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.
- Parodied in Wyrd Sisters, where Tomjon's theatre troupe meet some witches disguised as innocent peasant women, and being Genre Savvy know that if you meet a mysterious old woman in the road you have to share your lunch, or help her across the river, or bad fortune will attend you. There aren't any rivers handy, and Granny Weatherwax and Mistress Garlick both turn up their noses at the troupe's humble lunch, but Nanny Ogg shamelessly mooches food, drink, a smoke, and a lift into town.
- Parodied even further some years later in The Science of Discworld, which briefly shows Granny actually out picking up wood, utterly fed up with people wandering by assuming she's a god or genie or something of that ilk in disguise, and asking her for wishes. When Shawn Ogg comes by to give her a message, she tells him to bugger off, until he manages to get the point across.
- In Mufaros 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.
- 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.
- In the first episode of Hart to Hart, protagonist Jonathan Hart was shown undercover as a dock worker within his company. He promptly fires the Jerkass executive running the division and rides off in the company limo.
- "Once Upon a Time" has an interesting inversion. Rumplestilskin, who is also the show's version of the Beast, takes in an old beggar, gives him a meal, and tells him of his desperation of losing his son to being conscripted in war. It turns out that that old beggar is the Dark One. As "thanks", he tricks Rumple into taking his powers and becoming the new Dark One.
- In the Brazilian miniseries O Auto da Compadecida, a cloaked beggar crosses the path of several characters, and is always shunned. Turns out he is the brigand Severino, who was scouting the village for police forces, but also judging whether or not he should have any mercy on the locals.
- 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 diednote , turning both of them into trees.
- Jason helps an elderly woman cross a river. She turns out to be Hera in disguise, who rewards him by blessing him and assisting him in his adventures.
- 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 Odin. 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 the mortals 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, he 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.
- There's a common urban legend about students at a seminary, or theology students at a university, being accosted on their way to a final exam by an apparently homeless man in distress. One of them stops to help the man and misses the exam. The entire class are then told that the homeless man was an actor, and that they've all failed except for the person who stopped to help him.
- In Jewish folklore, Prophet Elijah plays the old beggar in nearly all of his (many) appearances, turning up out of the blue and making a request. The reception his hosts provide tends to... differ from story to story.
- In La Cenerentola (Rossini's version of "Cinderella"), the fairy godmother is replaced by the prince's tutor Alidoro, who 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.
- In The Green Pastures, God usually walks among humans as a simple country preacher.
- In the 2013 musical version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, an unconventional variant on this concept turns up. The Tramp to whom Charlie is polite at the dump in Act One is revealed to be Willy Wonka in the very last scene of Act Two. Being incognito, Mr. Wonka was able to observe the boy's imaginative spirit and genuine appreciation for his sweets, which means a great deal to him. He proceeded to rig his own Golden Ticket contest to ensure the boy had a chance to become his heir.
- Warhammer 40,000 In the backstory, the Emperor tested some of his sons by disguising himself as a wanderer and challenging them to a contest; if they won, he would have given them the empire, and when they lost gracefully he recognized them as his sons and gave them an expansion to their current kingdom. Normally this would be a fantasy story but due to the cynical nature of the setting, this is just the Emperor trying to be magnanimous; he's a sore loser (though he'll throw the contest if he thinks he could have won anyway).
- 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 Generosity in disguise, and she'll reward a player with an item if they gave her the money, or curse them with a status ailment if they refused.
- In the "Merlin's Crystal" quest in Runescape, there's a portion where the Player Character visits the Lady of the Lake in a quest to find Excalibur. She instructs you to visit a jewelry shop. On your way, you're approached by a beggar who asks you for food. If you give him a loaf of bread, he reveals himself as the Lady of the Lake in disguise and tells you that you've proven yourself to be generous and pure of heart and thus worthy of wielding Excalibur.
- In the Blood & Wine expansion of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, after lifting a curse placed on a noble lady, she tells you she was cursed by a beggar after she refused to give him food and shelter when he stopped by.
- During act 2 of Slay the Spire you may encounter a poor beggar who asks you for some alms. If you do he reveals himself to be the Cleric giving you a Secret Test of Character and gives you a blessing (letting you remove a card from your deck).
- You can actually invoke this in the Neverwinter Nights expansion Shadows of Undrentide. You end up inside a rather tragic story book, where a blind beggar asks you to find out what happened to the peasant girl he fell in love with. (Her father sent her to a monastery because he disapproved of their love, but the nuns turned out to be demon worshippers and sacrificed her.) However, after getting out of the story, you can rewrite it; this time through, the beggar is actually a knight in disguise, who successfully saves the girl before she is sacrificed. When she asks why he pretended to be blind, he says he wanted to be sure she loved him and not just his knighthood.
- The source of one of November's curses in No Rest for the Wicked, albeit a mild one. November had forgotten the Genre Savvy principle of always helping old beggar women at the side of the road, but she gave the woman almost all of the food she'd packed anyway because it would look terrible for the king's daughter to refuse a beggar. She balks at giving the beggar her last loaf of bread, however, since she'd have none for her journey. So the beggar curses November to have a frog fall out of her mouth whenever she says the word "altruistic."
- Invoked in the Adventure Time episode "Freak City", where Finn and Jake find an old man who asks for help and immediately recognize he's actually magic. Unfortunately, the beggar in question is actually a horrible trickster named Magic Man, who turns Finn into a giant foot for helping. Finn thinks this was because his intent was a reward rather than helping for the sake of itself, but realizes he's just doing it For the Evulz—whereupon Magic Man changes him back for finally "appreciating" what a jerk he is.
- In the Origins Episode of Miraculous Ladybug, Marinette and Adrien, on separate occasions, noticed the same old man in need and opted to help him. It was for this reason he chose them to be Ladybug and Cat Noir, respectively, and sent their Kwamis to them.
- 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.
- Tobacco companies, being highly restricted in how they can advertise their products, will sometimes tell retailers that they might send an Old Beggar (average looking customer) to their store to buy one of their products, and if the employee at the counter says the right thing when asked ("Yes, Brand X has a new package, but the same great flavour" or the like) they'll get a cash prize.
- Mystery Shoppers can be this for retail stores. Paid by the corporate headquarters to pretend to be an ordinary shopper in order to assess what quality of service the employees are giving.