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The History Behind Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper”

PP posterThe next play that NBYT will perform—on May 5, 6 and 7—is based upon several real-life facts. The Prince and the Pauper is Mark Twain’s novel about a Tudor prince and a look-alike peasant who change clothes and lives in Sixteenth Century England.

Some of our younger audience members and others new to the story may not realize that while the story is fictional, the young prince most certainly is not. The prince of the title is Edward, son of Henry VIII, who becomes King Edward VI of England. Because Henry’s death occurs in The Prince and the Pauper, the story can be pinpointed to the year 1547. Edward’s sisters are Mary and Elizabeth, who would both also be queens of England. Edward’s cousin, Lady Jane Grey, also appears in the story and later becomes queen herself for a short time—through some complicated history we won’t go into here.

Our history lesson doesn’t stop here though. This production of The Prince and the Pauper, from a script by R. Rex Stephenson, actually takes place in the attic of Mark Twain’s home in the Twentieth Century! Many of us know of Twain’s home in Hartford, but Twain also had a home in Redding, Connecticut, where he lived the final years of his life from 1908 to 1910. Twain named that home Stormfield.

At Stormfield, Twain was frequently visited by a group of neighborhood girls who came to be known as the Angel Fish Club (or the Aquarium Club). Twain encouraged the girls in their artistic pursuits, and he would meet with them and tell stories, attend theater performances, and discuss cultural events. Most of the meetings took place at Stormfield. It was this group of “Angel Fish” who became the basis for this play—in which Twain narrates and the girls and some additional friends (and other adults in the home) act out the story of The Prince and the Pauper.

The visiting author to Twain’s home, Albert Bigelow Paine, was also a real person. Paine was a friend and a writer whom Twain hired to take dictation as Twain recalled the events of his life. The dictated notes would later become, posthumously published, The Autobiography of Mark Twain.

The Prince and the Pauper will be performed at Holmes Elementary School, a community space located at 2150 Stanley Street in New Britain. Performances are Friday, May 5 at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday, May 6, at 7:00 p.m.; and Sunday, May 7 at 2:00 p.m. Ticket prices are $13 for adults and $11 for children, students, and seniors. Tickets may be reserved by calling New Britain Youth Theater at 860-515-8115 or may be purchased online at through Universe tickets.

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