The Prisoner of Zenda

The Prisoner of Zenda

infobox Book |
name = The Prisoner of Zenda
orig title =
translator =

image_caption = Cover to 2nd edition
author = Anthony Hope
cover_artist =
country = United Kingdom
language = English
series =
genre = Historical, Novel
publisher = Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (January 1, 2000)
release_date = 1894
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 400 p. (paperback edition)
isbn = ISBN 0-14-043755-X (paperback edition)
preceded_by = The Heart of Princess Osra
followed_by = Rupert of Hentzau

"The Prisoner of Zenda" is an adventure novel by Anthony Hope, published in 1894. The king of the fictional country of Ruritania is abducted on the eve of his coronation, and the protagonist, an English gentleman on holiday who fortuitously resembles the monarch, is persuaded to act as his political decoy in an attempt to save the situation. The villainous Rupert of Hentzau gave his name to the sequel published in 1898, which is included in some editions of this novel. The books were extremely popular and inspired a new genre of Ruritanian romance, including the Graustark novels by George Barr McCutcheon.

Plot summary

The narrator is twenty-nine year old the Hon. Rudolf Rassendyll, younger brother of the Earl of Burlesdon and (through an ancestor's sexual indiscretion) a distant cousin and look alike of Rudolf V, the soon-to-be-crowned King of Ruritania, a "highly interesting and important" [chapter 1] Germanic kingdom somewhere imprecisely between the German and Austrian Empires. Ruritania is, like Germany and Austria-Hungary at that time, an absolute monarchy. Rudolf Elphberg, the crown prince, is a hard-drinking playboy, unpopular with the common people, but supported by the aristocracy, the Catholic Church, the army, and the rich classes in general. The political rival to this absolute monarch is his younger half-brother Michael, Duke and Governor of Strelsau, the capital. Michael has no legitimate claim to the throne, because he is the son of their father's second, morganatic marriage: there are hints, from his swarthy appearance (he is nicknamed Black Michael) and Rassendyll's elliptically referring to him as a "mongrel", that he may be partly Jewish. Michael is regarded as champion of Strelsau's working classes, both the proletariat and the peasants, and of what Hope refers to as the criminal classes. The novel seems sympathetic, however, with those who would support the dissolute despot, King Rudolf.

When Michael has Rudolf drugged, abducted and imprisoned in the castle in the small town of Zenda, Rassendyll must impersonate the King at the coronation. There are complications, plots, and counter-plots, among them the schemes of Michael's mistress Antoinette de Mauban, and those of his villainous henchman Rupert of Hentzau, and Rassendyll falling in love with Princess Flavia, the King's betrothed. In the end, the King is restored to his throne — but the lovers must part.


The novel has been adapted many times, mainly for film but also stage, musical, operetta, radio, and television. Probably the best-known version is the 1937 Hollywood movie. The dashingly villainous Rupert of Hentzau has been played by such matinee idols as Ramon Novarro (1922), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (1937), and James Mason (1952).

*"The Prisoner of Zenda" (1896) opened as a play in the West End, co-written by Hope and Edward Rose.

*"The Prisoner of Zenda" (1913) - Starring James K. Hackett, Beatrice Beckley, David Torrence, Fraser Coalter, William R. Randall and Walter Hale. Adapted by Hugh Ford and directed by Ford and Edwin S. Porter, it was produced by Adolph Zukor and was the first production of the Famous Players Film Company.

*"The Prisoner of Zenda" (1915) - Starring Henry Ainley, Gerald Ames, George Bellamy, Marie Anita Bozzi, Jane Gail, Arthur Holmes-Gore, Charles Rock and Norman Yates. It was adapted by W. Courtney Rowden and directed by George Loane Tucker.

*"The Prisoner of Zenda" (1922) - Starring Ramon Novarro, Lewis Stone, Alice Terry, Robert Edeson, Stuart Holmes, Malcolm McGregor and Barbara La Marr. It was adapted by Mary O'Hara and directed by Rex Ingram.

*"Princess Flavia" (1925), an operetta with the score by Sigmund Romberg.

*"The Prisoner of Zenda" (1937) - Starring Ronald Colman as Rassendyll and Rudolph, Madeleine Carroll as Princess Flavia, Raymond Massey as Michael, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as Rupert of Hentzau, and C. Aubrey Smith as Colonel Zapt. David O. Selznick decided to produce the film, partly as a comment on the Edward VIII abdication crisis "The Brits in Hollywood" Sheridan Morley, Robson Books 2006, p. 161, ISBN 978-1861058072] , and it was directed by John Cromwell. Of the many film adaptations, this is considered by many to be the definitive version. ["VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever 2008", Visible Ink Press 978-0787689810] Leslie Halliwell puts it at #590 of all the films ever made, saying that the "splendid schoolboy adventure story" of the late Victorian novel is "perfectly transferred to the screen", ["Halliwell's Top 1000", John Walker, HarperCollins Entertainment ISBN 978-0007260805] and quotes a 1971 comment by John Cutts that the film becomes more "fascinating and beguiling" as time goes by. "Halliwell's Film Guide 2008" calls it "one of the most entertaining films to come out of Hollywood". "Halliwell's Film Guide 2008", David Gritten, HarperCollins Entertainment ISBN 978-0007260805]

*Colman, Smith and Fairbanks reprised their roles for a 1939 episode of "Lux Radio Theatre", with Colman's wife Benita Hume playing Princess Flavia.

*"The Magnificent Fraud" (1939)) - Starring Akim Tamiroff.

*"The Prisoner of Zenda" (1952) - Starring Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr, Louis Calhern, Jane Greer, Lewis Stone, Robert Douglas, James Mason and Robert Coote. Stone, who played the lead in the 1922 version, had a minor role in this remake. It was adapted by Edward E. Rose, (dramatization) Wells Root, John L. Balderston, Noel Langley and Donald Ogden Stewart (additional dialogue, originally uncredited). It was directed by Richard Thorpe. It is a shot-for-shot copy of the 1937 film, the only difference being that it was made in Technicolor. Halliwell judges it "no match for the happy inspiration of the original".

*"The Prisoner of Zenda" (1961) U.S. television adaptation (DuPont Show of the Month), starring Christopher Plummer and Inger Stevens.

*"Zenda" (1963), a musical that closed on the road prior to a scheduled opening on Broadway. Adapted from the 1925 "Princess Flavia".

* "The Prisoner of Zenda" (1979) - A comic version, starring Peter Sellers, Lynne Frederick, Lionel Jeffries, Elke Sommer, Gregory Sierra, Jeremy Kemp, Catherine Schell, Simon Williams and Stuart Wilson. It was adapted by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais and directed by Richard Quine.

*"The Prisoner of Zenda" (1984) - BBC adaptation starring Malcolm Sinclair.

*"Moon over Parador" (1988), adapted by Leon Capetanos and directed by Paul Mazursky. More directly a remake of "The Magnificent Fraud", the story is set in Latin America with Richard Dreyfus as the President and his actor Jack Noah, Raúl Juliá as Roberto Strausmann (the "Black Michael" character), and Sonia Braga as Madonna Mendez (the Flavia character). It is a romantic comedy.

*"Dave", a 1993 film version adapted by Gary Ross and directed by Ivan Reitman that resets the story (with very minor changes) to contemporary Washington, DC, with Kevin Kline as the President and his double, Frank Langella in the "Black Michael" role, and Sigourney Weaver as the modern American Flavia. Like "Moon Over Parador", it is a romantic comedy.


Many fictional works that feature a political decoy can be linked to "The Prisoner of Zenda"; indeed, this novel spawned the genre known as Ruritanian romance. What follows is a short list of those homages with a clear debt to Anthony Hope's book.

*The 1902 short story "Rupert the Resembler" is one of the so-called New Burlesques, a comedy parody by Bret Harte, full text [|here] .

*The 1965 comedy film "The Great Race" included an extended "Zenda"-like subplot, including a climactic fencing scene between Tony Curtis and Ross Martin. Curtis swims the moat, scales the wall, and despatches the guards, activities that Ronald Colman performs in the 1937 version of "The Prisoner of Zenda".

*Two episodes of the spoof spy television series "Get Smart", "The King Lives?" and "To *Sire With Love, Parts 1 and 2", parodied the 1937 movie version, with Don Adams affecting a Ronald Coleman-esque voice.

*The 1970 Flashman novel "Royal Flash", by George MacDonald Fraser, purports to explain the real story behind "The Prisoner of Zenda", and indeed, in an extended literary conceit, claims to be the inspiration for Hope's novel -- the narrator of the memoirs, in the framing story, tells his adventures to his lawyer, Hawkins, who can be assumed to be Anthony Hope (Hawkins). Otto von Bismarck and other real people such as Lola Montez are involved in the plot. It was released as a film of the same title in 1975, directed by Richard Lester, starring Malcolm McDowell as Flashman and Oliver Reed as Otto von Bismarck.

*"The Seven-Per-Cent Solution" (1974) by Nicholas Meyer is a non-canonical addition to the Sherlock Holmes stories. Holmes meets Rassendyll on a train.

*"Doctor Who" episode "The Androids of Tara" (1978) had as a working title "The Androids of Zenda" and used a similar plot and setting. It featured Tom Baker as the Doctor and Mary Tamm in four roles: Romana and Princess Strella, and android doubles of each. The 1980 novelisation was by Terrance Dicks, who was script-editor on the 1984 BBC serialisation of "Zenda".

*"The Zenda Vendetta (TimeWars Book 4)" by Simon Hawke (1985) is a science fiction version, part of a series which pits 27th century terrorists the Timekeepers against the Time Commandos of the US Army Temporal Corps. A Commando is the hero, and Antoinette's rôle is adapted as a Timekeeper dominatrix.

*John Spurling's novel "After Zenda" (1995) is a tongue-in-cheek modern adventure in which Karl, the secret great-grandson of Rudolf Rassendyll and Queen Flavia, goes to post-Communist Ruritania, where he gets mixed up with various rebels and religious sects before ending up as constitutional monarch. The use of DNA fingerprinting comes into play, as it had recently done for the Romanovs.

*"The Prisoner of Zenda, Inc.", a 1996 made-for-television version, is set in the contemporary United States and revolves around a high school boy who is the heir to a large corporation. The writer, Rodman Gregg, was inspired by the 1937 film version. It stars Jonathan Jackson, Richard Lee Jackson, William Shatner, Don S. Davis, Jay Brazeau and Katharine Isabelle.

*"Emma", a manga series released from 2002 -2007, references "The Prisoner of Zenda" in chapter 37, which gives an overview of the plot as one character reads the novel.


In a popular, but very questionable account, a German circus acrobat named Otto Witte claimed he had been briefly mistaken for the new King of Albania at the time of that country's separation from the Ottoman Empire, and that he was crowned and reigned a few days. However, the date of this claim (1913), and the lack of any evidence to back it up, suggests that Witte made up his story after seeing the first film version of the novel.

Author Salman Rushdie cited "The Prisoner of Zenda" in the epigraph to "Haroun and the Sea of Stories", the novel he wrote while living in hiding in the late 1980s.

The 1956 novel "Double Star", by Robert A. Heinlein, shares plot elements with "The Prisoner of Zenda".

ee also

*"The Heart of Princess Osra"
*"Rupert of Hentzau"

External links

*gutenberg|no=95|name=The Prisoner of Zenda
*gutenberg|no=1145|name=Rupert of Hentzau
* [ The Ruritanian Resistance] - comprehensive fan site

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