The Cons of the King and the Duke

A Close Reading by Pearl, Olivia, and Emily K

The Revival


While stopping along their journey, the Duke and King stop at a revival to work their con-making magic. The plan is to stop and perform their Shakespeare play, but this doesn't go plan because everyone has abandoned the town to go to local revivals. While the pastor is preaching on the stage the king told him he was a pirate, and had been for 30 years in the indian ocean. He goes on to say that he was home to get some fresh men, claiming that he was now a “changed man” and was happy for the first time in his life. Claiming that he has arrived with no money he tells the crowd how hard it will be to get back to the indian ocean with no money, obviously making the audience feel bad for him, ending his speech saying that the “dear preacher there [was] the truest friend a pirate ever had!”. Bursting into tears, someone suggests that they should take up an offering for him, and someone else suggests that he should pass the plate around, and he does, blessing people as they go. When they get back to the raft, the money is counted up and the King has collected eighty-seven dollars and seventy-five cents. The King also managed to take a 3 gallon jug of whiskey that he found under a wagon on the way back.

Device & Purpose

Throughout the novel there is a large commentary on organized religion and one might see what Twain thinks about this by looking closer.

The setting of this novel is during the great awakening, a time where there is a clear uprising in the christian religion. In the excerpt described above, the audience of christians and revivalists are portrayed as fools because they are so easily fooled by the King and are very quick to give their money to a fake cause. the devices used here are irony and satire because the King and Duke are being exaggerated with their language and the reader can obviously see this exaggeration, even though the people in the text can not. By using these devices the reader can see why it is so easy for the conmen to scam people, even though they are bad at it.

Also, A jug of whiskey is found at someone's wagon. This use of irony clearly shows that a group of people that are stereotyped as "goody-goody" and "perfect" are in possession of alcohol, which goes against the morals of Huck and the classic stereotype of christians. This is an issue for many reasons. One reason this is an issue is because this lessens Huck's opinion of both Christians and of the King since he stole it and will later get drunk.

Twain's Commentary

Twain is commenting on the ignorance and willingness of Christians to do anything in organized religion.

Discussion Question

1. What is the purpose behind the fact that Jim is not in this entire scene and what is Twain trying to say about this?

The Play

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When the group stopped in the small town in Arkansas that Sherburn shot Boggs in, there was a large quarrel over the shooting and possible lynching going on. After the violence, Huck went to lighten the mood by going to the circus, and I believe that that visit impacted the desire for the Duke and the Dauphin to have their own show. They presented Shakespeare that night, but it was a bust and only enough people showed up to break even. This was the show that the men practiced for on the raft, combining all different plays to create a jumbled mix of Shakespeare that they thought was fact. The first time that it was presented, people laughed and made the men angry, so they said that they would present a new one where only grown men were allowed, and they thought it would please the “Arkansas folk”, for 3 nights. When the play was actually presented the first night, they talked it up, but when the acting began it as only the king painted and naked. He went to the curtain, and came back a couple times and pranced around again, but then closed the curtain and said that there will be two more nights of performances, and to tell their friends. The people were obviously confused, but then didn’t want to look stupid so they DID spread the word about how great the play was. The next night it was the same thing, but then the 3rd night was the difference in the outcome. It was packed again, but it was all people who had previously seen the show, but they had eggs and rotten cabbage and dead cats and tomatoes to throw at them in their pockets. The Duke and the Dauphin knew this was going to happen, so they and Huck fled the building after they took everyone’s money, of course.


Quote #1: “Hamlet’s soliloquy, you know; the most celebrated thing in Shakespeare. Ah, it’s sublime, sublime! Always fetches the house. I haven’t got it in the book—I’ve only got one volume—but I reckon I can piece it out from memory. I’ll just walk up and down a minute, and see if I can call it back from recollection’s vaults.” (Twain 139)

Quote #2: “Hold on! Just a word, gentlemen.” They stopped to listen. “We are sold—mighty badly sold. But we don’t want to be the laughing stock of this whole town, I reckon, and never hear the last of this thing as long as we live. No. What we want is to go out of here quiet, and talk this show up, and sell the rest of the town! Then we’ll all be in the same boat. Ain’t that sensible?” (Twain 155)

Devices & Explanations

Quote #1- Device & Explanation: The Duke and the Dauphin combined different plays and acts of Shakespeare when they were practicing their con for the town, and were ridiculously ignorant when believing that. This uses pathos and emotional appeals to relate back to the reader, in turn making them reflect back on themselves to think about how much we really know, and how much we make up or recall incorrectly and hold as truth.

Quote #2- Device & Explanation: The man in the crowd is reasoning with the rest of the audience, and trying to convince them that they should go along with the Duke and the Dauphin’s scheme. This plea uses ethos to reason with the group of people based on community. The man uses the group's idea of how the rest of the town will perceive them to get the crowd to agree with him that they should keep quiet about the embarrassment. They don’t want to look idiotic and be laughed at by the rest of the town for being tricked, so they’re going to pretend to go along with the play and act as if it is good. This, much like Sherburn's speech earlier in the novel, comments on mob mentality (even though there was no lynching involved), and how people think in a group (or don't think).

Twain's Commentary

In both quotes, humanity's ignorance is prevalent. Twain portrays both the Duke and the King, and the audience of the "play" to show how stupid people can be, both having too large an ego to realize they're wrong, or engaging in groupthink to agree with something absurd to flee from social embarrassment.

Discussion Questions

1. Do you think that the portrayed ignorance of the Duke and the King accurately represent humanity's ego and stupidity?

2. Do you believe that the same type of mob mentality, or groupthink, that played into Sherburn’s possible lynching was at work when the crowd listened to the man speak about being the laughing stock of the town?

The Uncle: Family & Values


Mary Jane has no idea that that the Duke and the King aren’t related to her at all. She embraces them and lets them cry all over her, her sister, and the coffin. No one even questions if they’re related to them or not. They’re all about to have dinner together, and they’re praying and singing and talking like they’ve known each other all their lives. The King and Duke are suspected to be cons once an new set of men come saying that they are the relatives and not the King and Duke. They settle who is actually related by comparing their handwriting and when nobody's handwriting matches the reader can see that both sets of men are fakes.


“The king he spread his arms, and Mary Jane she jumped for them, and the hare-lip jumped for the duke, and there they had it! Everybody most, leastways women, cried for joy to see them meet again at last and have such good times.” (Twain 166)

“And when they got there they bent over and looked in the coffin, and took one sight, and then they bust out a-crying so you could a heard them to Orleans, most; and then they put their arms around each other’s necks, and hung their chins over each other’s shoulders; and then for three minutes, or maybe four, I never see two men leak the way they done. And, mind you, everybody was doing the same; and the place was that damp I never see anything like it.” (Twain 167)

Devices & Explainations

The device used in the quotes is pathos. The Duke and the King are being very over dramatic towards the family, causing many of them to be very emotional. They start crying and praying and preaching to the crowd about who knows what, and everyone instantly starts feeling whatever emotion they’re putting out. They have experience in the acting department, so this comes very easy to them. Inside people knew they weren't really smart and that they didn't know any Shakespeare at all, but they pretended that they did to also seem intelligent. It seems that they're doing the same thing here. Obviously no one wants to cause a scene at a funeral.

What Twain Meant to Get Across

Twain is trying to show that fact that people are way too nice and that they’re so blind to the point that they can’t even tell family members apart. If two strange men showed up at a funeral and started crying all over me and I didn’t know them, I’d get a little uncomfortable. These people just welcomed them right on in. This also shows the fact that even though they’re very nice to each other, they don’t know who their family is and they use that to cover that up. This shows the corruption in family values.

This shows up again when Tom Sawyer goes to visit his Aunt Sally. She has no idea what he looks like and it could've been any little kid at her doorstep, but she assumed it was him and kept on like it was nothing.

Discussion Questions

1. Why are people portrayed this way in the book?

2. Why does Twain decide to show this corruption in such a detailed manner?

Citations:,. 'Bardfilm: January 2013'. N.p., 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.

Maze, Burbank J. Methodist revival in USA. 1839. wikipedia. Web. 17 Nov. 2015. <>.