Study Guide

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Chapter 21

By Mark Twain

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Chapter 21

  • The duke and the king set to practicing their Shakespeare. The king is less than adept, and the duke informs him that he should play Juliet more gently, as she doesn't "bray like a jackass" (21.1).
  • Apparently the duke, despite all his "expertise," can't really keep his plays straight. In the midst of their Romeo and Juliet, he starts calling himself "Richard III."
  • Then, for good measure, he completely jumbles Hamlet's soliloquy ("To be or not to be; that is the bare bodkin").
  • It's really quite hilarious and he manages to combine Macbeth and others in a lovely mixed salad of the greatest Shakespearean speeches ever gone very, very wrong. So, check it out.
  • One morning, around Arkansas, they decide it's time to perform this sucker. They print up some playbills using fake stage-names for themselves and charging 25 cents admission.
  • (Brain snack: the names they use—David Garrick and Edmund Kean—are the names of super-famous Shakespearean actors from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.)
  • Huck describes the unlucky town on which the duke and king have decided to bestow their acting talents. Let's just say it's not exactly London, as far as culture goes—so, they might actually have a shot at pulling this off.
  • Like, he details the way they argue about borrowing "tobacker" (tobacco). Also the roads are made out of mud, which gives the place real character.
  • Soon enough, we meet the town's most colorful character, a drunk named Boggs. Boggs has a habit of getting wasted and riding through town on his horse threatening to kill everyone he doesn't like.
  • Everyone is used to Boggs and his empty threats, so they're more inclined to laugh at him than run screaming in the other direction.
  • However, on this particular occasion, Boggs makes the mistake of threatening Sherburn, a tough guy who owns the biggest store in town.
  • Sherburn comes out to the front of his store and gives Boggs a warning: leave by one o'clock, or… die.
  • Not much of a choice, right?
  • But Boggs, being Boggs, isn't so much prone to logic at the moment. So he continues to insult Sherburn while standing outside his store.
  • The townspeople, who are prone to logic and know that Sherburn is one serious man, hurry to get Boggs' daughter to try to calm her father down.
  • Several tension-filled minutes later, Sherburn comes out on his front porch, aims his pistol, shoots twice, kills Boggs, and leaves.
  • Uh, that took a decidedly morbid turn.
  • The townspeople lay a Bible under his head just as his sixteen-year-old daughter comes running onto the scene, weeping and so forth.
  • Does this sound oddly Shakespearean to you? We think that's not a coincidence.
  • Everyone who just showed up is all, "What happened!" and one insensitive guy is like, "I'll show you!" and reenacts the scene, complete with "Bang! Bang!"
  • Talk about acting.
  • Then the angry mob decides that they should put their angry mob skills to use and lynch Sherburn.

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