The Emperor's New Clothes

"The Emperor's New Clothes" (Danish: Kejserens nye klæder) is a short tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent – while in reality, they make no clothes at all, making everyone believe the clothes are invisible to them. When the emperor parades before his subjects in his new "clothes", no one dares to say that they do not see any suit of clothes on him for fear that they will be seen as stupid. Finally a child cries out, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!" The tale has been translated into over 100 languages.[1]

"The Emperor's New Clothes"
Illustration by Vilhelm Pedersen, Andersen's first illustrator
AuthorHans Christian Andersen
Original title"Kejserens nye klæder"
Genre(s)Literary folktale
Published inFairy Tales Told for Children. First Collection. Third Booklet. 1837. (Eventyr, fortalte for Børn. Første Samling. Tredie Hefte. 1837.)
Publication typeFairy tale collection
PublisherC.A. Reitzel
Publication date7 April 1837
Preceded by"The Little Mermaid"
Followed by"Only a Fiddler"

"The Emperor’s New Clothes" was first published with "The Little Mermaid" in Copenhagen, by C. A. Reitzel, on 7 April 1837, as the third and final installment of Andersen's Fairy Tales Told for Children. The tale has been adapted to various media, and the story's title, the phrase "The Emperor has no clothes", and variations thereof have been adopted for use in numerous other works and as an idiom.


A vain emperor who cares too much about wearing and displaying clothes hires two weavers who claim to make the most beautiful clothes and elaborate patterns. The weavers are con-men who convince the emperor they are using a fine fabric invisible to anyone who is either unfit for his position or "hopelessly stupid". The con lies in that the weavers are actually only pretending to manufacture the clothes. Thus, no one, not even the emperor nor his ministers can see the alleged "clothes", but they all pretend that they can for fear of appearing unfit for their positions. Finally, the weavers report that the suit is finished and they mime dressing the emperor who then marches in procession before his subjects. The townsfolk uncomfortably go along with the pretense, not wanting to appear unfit for their positions or stupid. Finally, a child in the crowd blurts out that the emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is then taken up by others. The emperor realizes the assertion is true but continues the procession.


Andersen's tale is based on a 1335 story from the Libro de los ejemplos (or El Conde Lucanor),[2] a medieval Spanish collection of fifty-one cautionary tales with various sources such as Aesop and other classical writers and Persian folktales, by Juan Manuel, Prince of Villena (1282–1348). Andersen did not know the Spanish original but read the tale in a German translation titled "So ist der Lauf der Welt".[3] In the source tale, a king is hoodwinked by weavers who claim to make a suit of clothes invisible to any man not the son of his presumed father; whereas Andersen altered the source tale to direct the focus on courtly pride and intellectual vanity rather than adulterous paternity.[4][5]

There is also an Indian version of the story, which appears in the Līlāvatīsāra by Jinaratna (1283), a summary of a now-lost anthology of fables, the Nirvāṇalīlāvatī by Jineśvara (1052). The dishonest merchant Dhana from Hastināpura swindles the King of Śrāvastī by offering to weave a supernatural garment that cannot be seen or touched by any person of illegitimate birth. When the king is supposedly wearing the garment, his whole court pretends to admire it. The king is then paraded about his city to show off the garment; when the common folk ask him if he has become a naked ascetic, he realizes the deception, but the swindler has already fled.[6]


Andersen's manuscript was at the printer's when he was suddenly inspired to change the original climax of the tale from the emperor's subjects admiring his invisible clothes to that of the child's cry.[7] There are many unconfirmed theories about why he made this change. Most scholars agree that from his earliest years in Copenhagen, Andersen presented himself to the Danish bourgeoisie as the naïvely precocious child not usually admitted to the adult salon. "The Emperor's New Clothes" became his exposé of the hypocrisy and snobbery he found there when he finally gained admission.[8]

Andersen's decision to change the ending may have occurred after he read the manuscript tale to a child,[9] or its inspiration may have been one of Andersen's own childhood incidents which was similar to that in the tale: he once recalled standing in a crowd with his mother, waiting to see King Frederick VI, and when the king made his appearance, Andersen cried out, "Oh, he's nothing more than a human being!" His mother then tried to silence him saying, "Have you gone mad, child?" Whatever the reason, Andersen thought the change would prove more satirical.[10]


"The Emperor's New Clothes" was first published with "The Little Mermaid" on 7 April 1837, by C.A. Reitzel in Copenhagen, as the third and final installment of the first collection of Andersen's Fairy Tales Told for Children. The first two booklets of the collection were published in May and December 1835, and met with little critical enthusiasm.[11] Andersen waited a year before publishing the third installment of the collection.[12]

Traditional Danish tales, as well as German and French folktales, were regarded as a form of exotica in nineteenth century Denmark and were read aloud to select gatherings by celebrated actors of the day. Andersen's tales eventually became a part of the repertoire, and readings of "The Emperor's New Clothes" became a specialty of and a big hit for the popular Danish actor Ludvig Phister.[13]

On 1 July 1844, the Hereditary Grand Duke Carl Alexander held a literary soiree at Ettersburg in honor of Andersen. Tired by speaking various foreign languages and on the verge of vomiting after days of feasting, the author managed to control his body and read aloud "The Princess and the Pea", "Little Ida's Flowers", and "The Emperor's New Clothes".[14]


Jack Zipes, in Hans Christian Andersen: The Misunderstood Storyteller, suggests that seeing is presented in the tale as the courage of one's convictions; Zipes believe this is the reason the story is popular with children. Sight becomes insight, which, in turn, prompts action.[15]

Alison Prince, author of Hans Christian Andersen: The Fan Dancer, claims that Andersen received a gift of a ruby and diamond ring from the king after publications of "The Emperor's New Clothes" and "The Swineherd"—tales in which Andersen voices a satirical disrespect for the court. Prince suggests the ring was an attempt to curb Andersen's sudden bent for political satire by bringing him into the royal fold. She points out that after "The Swineherd", he never again wrote a tale colored with political satire, but, within months of the gift, began composing "The Ugly Duckling", a tale about a bird born in a henyard who, after a lifetime of misery, matures into a swan, "one of those royal birds".[16] In Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller, biographer Jackie Wullschlager points out that Andersen was not only a successful adapter of existing lore and literary material, such as the Spanish source tale for "The Emperor's New Clothes", but was equally competent at creating new material that entered the human collective consciousness with the same mythic power as ancient, anonymous lore.[17]

Hollis Robbins, in "The Emperor's New Critique" (2003), argues that the tale is itself so transparent "that there has been little need for critical scrutiny.[18] Robbins argues that Andersen's tale "quite clearly rehearses four contemporary controversies: the institution of a meritocratic civil service, the valuation of labor, the expansion of democratic power, and the appraisal of art".[19] Robbins concludes that the story's appeal lies in its "seductive resolution" of the conflict by the truth-telling boy.

In The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen (2008), folk and fairy tale researcher Maria Tatar offers a scholarly investigation and analysis of the story, drawing on Robbins' political and sociological analysis of the tale. Tatar points out that Robbins indicates the swindling weavers are simply insisting that "the value of their labor be recognized apart from its material embodiment" and notes that Robbins considers the ability of some in the tale to see the invisible cloth as "a successful enchantment".[20]

Tatar observes that "The Emperor's New Clothes" is one of Andersen's best-known tales and one that has acquired an iconic status globally as it migrates across various cultures reshaping itself with each retelling in the manner of oral folktales.[21] Scholars have noted that the phrase, "Emperor's new clothes", has become a standard metaphor for anything that smacks of pretentiousness, pomposity, social hypocrisy, collective denial, or hollow ostentatiousness. Historically, the tale established Andersen's reputation as a children's author whose stories actually imparted lessons of value for his juvenile audience, and "romanticized" children by "investing them with the courage to challenge authority and to speak truth to power."[22] With each successive description of the swindlers' wonderful cloth, it becomes more substantial, more palpable, and a thing of imaginative beauty for the reader even though it has no material existence. Its beauty, however, is obscured at the end of the tale with the obligatory moral message for children. Tatar is left wondering if the real value of the tale is the creation of the wonderful fabric in the reader's imagination or the tale's closing message of speaking truth no matter how humiliating to the recipient.

Naomi Wood of Kansas State University challenges Robbins' reading, arguing that before the World Trade Center attacks of 2001, "Robbins's argument might seem merely playful, anti-intuitive, and provocative."[23] Wood concludes: "Perhaps the truth of 'The Emperor's New Clothes' is not that the child's truth is mercifully free of adult corruption, but that it recognizes the terrifying possibility that whatever words we may use to clothe our fears, the fabric cannot protect us from them."[24]

More recently Robbins returned to the tale to suggest that the courtiers who pretend not to see what they see are models of men in a workplace who claim not to see harassment.[25]

Adaptations and cultural references

Various adaptations of the tale have appeared since its first publication.

Film and television

1919 Russian film directed by Yuri Zhelyabuzhsky, a 1987 musical starring Sid Caesar, and numerous short stories, plays, spoofs, and animated films.[1]

In 1953, theatrical short titled The Emperor's New Clothe, produced by UPA

In 1961, Croatian film (80') directed by Ante Babaja, writer Božidar Violić (see IMDB)[26].

In the 1965 Doctor Who serial The Romans, the Doctor uses the story as inspiration to avoid his disguise as a lyre player being discovered. He later claims to have given Anderson the original idea for the story in the first place.

In 1970, Patrick Wymark appeared as the Emperor in Hans Christian Andersen, an Australian musical/comedy television special highlighting three of Andersen's most famous stories. It was broadcast five weeks after Wymark's untimely death in Melbourne.[27]

In 1972, Rankin/Bass Productions adapted the tale as the first and only musical episode of ABC series The Enchanted World of Danny Kaye series, featuring Danny Kaye, Cyril Ritchard, Imogene Coca, Allen Swift, and Bob McFadden. The television special features eight songs with music by Maury Laws and lyrics by Jules Bass, and combines live action filmed in Aarhus, Denmark, animation, special effects, and the stop motion animation process "Animagic" made in Japan.

In 1985, Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre adapted the fairy tale starring Dick Shawn as the Emperor while Alan Arkin and Art Carney starred as the con artists.

The 1987 Japanese war documentary film, The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On, by director Kazuo Hara, centers on 62-year-old Kenzo Okuzaki, veteran of Japan's Second World War campaign in New Guinea, and follows him around as he searches out those responsible for the unexplained deaths of two soldiers in his old unit.

The Emperor's New Clothes, a 1987 musical comedy adaptation of the fairy tale starring Sid Caesar, part of the Cannon Movie Tales series

The Emperor's New Clothes (1991) animated film. By Burbank Animation Studios

In the 1997 television drama, ...First Do No Harm, Lori (played by Meryl Streep) is shown reading this story to her young son, Robbie (played by Seth Adkins).

An original video animation (OVA) episode of the anime franchise Bikini Warriors humorously adapts the tale, wherein the main characters are stripped nude by an unseen deity under the pretense that it has actually gifted them with a new, legendary bikini armor which only "idiots" are unable to see.[28]

HBO Family aired an animated adaptation called The Emperor’s Newest Clothes in 2018. Alan Alda narrated the tale and Jeff Daniels was the voice of the Emperor.[29]

Other media

On March 1, 1957, Bing Crosby recorded a musical adaptation of the story for children which was issued as an album Never Be Afraid by Golden Records in 1957.[30] In 1980, computer scientist C.A.R. Hoare used a parody tale, The Emperor's Old Clothes, to advocate simplification over embellishment, for clothing or computer programming languages.[31]

In 1985, Jack Herer published the first edition of The Emperor Wears No Clothes, which uncovers the history of industrial hemp through civilization, culminating in a propaganda campaign in the U.S. in the early 20th century. The book is now in its 11th edition.

In 1989, Roger Penrose parodied artificial intelligence as having no substance in his book The Emperor's New Mind.[32]

In 2011, Tony Namate, an award-winning Zimbabwean cartoonist, published a collection of political cartoons entitled The Emperor's New Clods.[33] This collection features cartoons published in Zimbabwean newspapers between 1998 and 2005, highlighting some landmark moments in a troubled period of the country's history.[34]

In 2014, the online game Final Fantasy XIV introduced[35] a gear set prefixed The Emperor's New, which is composed of gear pieces (e.g. The Emperor's New Gloves[36]) that do not have an in-game model, effectively displaying a character in underwear when the whole set is equipped. This followed requests from the player base to be able to hide a piece of equipment they do not want displayed, using the in-game glamour system that allows gear appearance alteration. The flavour text of the gear pieces is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the tale: "The most beautiful handwear you never have seen".

Use as an idiom

As an idiom, use of the story's title refers to something widely accepted as true or professed as being praiseworthy, due to an unwillingness of the general population to criticize it or be seen as going against popular opinion.[37] The phrase "emperor's new clothes" has become an idiom about logical fallacies.[38][39] The story may be explained by pluralistic ignorance.[40] The story is about a situation where "no one believes, but everyone believes that everyone else believes. Or alternatively, everyone is ignorant to whether the emperor has clothes on or not, but believes that everyone else is not ignorant."[41]

See also


  1. Andersen 2005a 4
  2. In Spanish:Exemplo XXXIIº – De lo que contesció a un rey con los burladores que fizieron el paño. In English: Of that which happened to a King and three Impostors from Count Lucanor; of the Fifty Pleasant Stories of Patronio, written by the Prince Don Juan Manuel and first translated into English by James York, M. D., 1868, Gibbings & Company, Limited; London; 1899; pp. xiii–xvi. Accessed 2010-03-06. This version of the tale is one of those collected by Idries Shah in World Tales.
  3. Bredsdorff p. 312–3
  4. Wullschlager 2000, p. 176
  5. Count Lucanor by Don Juan Manuel as Inspiration for Hans Christian Andersen and Other European Writers. HC Andersen Centret.
  6. Anthony Kennedy Warder (1992). Indian Kāvya Literature: The art of storytelling, Volume 6. pp. 261–262, 268–270.
  7. Wullschlager 2000, p. 177
  8. Andersen 2005b, p. 427
  9. Bredsdorff, p. 313
  10. Frank, p. 110
  11. Wullschlager 2000, p. 165
  12. Andersen 2005d, p. 228
  13. Andersen 2005d, p. 246
  14. Andersen 2005d, p. 305
  15. Zipes 2005, p. 36
  16. Prince, p. 210
  17. Andersen 2005a, p. xvi
  18. Hollis Robbins (Autumn 2003). "The Emperor's New Critique". New Literary History. 34 (4): 659–675. doi:10.1353/nlh.2004.0010. Retrieved March 1, 2013.
  19. Robbins, Hollis (Autumn 2003). "The Emperor's New Critique". New Literary History. 34 (4): 670. Retrieved March 1, 2013.
  20. Quoted in Tatar pages 8, 15
  21. Tatar xxii, xiii
  22. Tatar xxiii
  23. Wood p. 193–207
  24. Wood p. 205
  26. "Carevo novo ruho" via
  27. "Hans Christian Andersen". IMDb via
  28. Bikini Warriors episode 15: これが伝説の防具を手に入れた勇者たちの姿である (lit.: "This is the Appearance of the Warriors who obtained the Legendary Armor"); December 7, 2016.
  29. Milligan, Mercedes. "HBO Unbuttons ‘The Emperor’s Newest Clothes’ Special Nov. 15." Animation Magazine. 31 October 2018. 5 January 2019.
  30. "A Bing Crosby Discography". BING magazine. International Club Crosby. Retrieved October 4, 2017.
  31. Hoare, C.A.R. (February 1981). "1980 Turing Award Lecture". Communications of the ACM. 24 (2): 75–83. doi:10.1145/358549.358561.
  32. Penrose, Roger & Lord Adrian (6 March 1991), "The Emperor's New Mind", RSA Journal, JSTOR 41378098
  33. Chipato, Michael (29 July 2011). "Namate cartoons in new book". Retrieved July 4, 2016.
  34. "THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLODS". Retrieved July 4, 2016.
  35. Inc., SQUARE ENIX. "Patch 2.4 Notes (Full Release) | FINAL FANTASY XIV, The Lodestone". FINAL FANTASY XIV, The Lodestone. Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  36. Ltd., SQUARE ENIX. "Eorzea Database: The Emperor's New Gloves | FINAL FANTASY XIV, The Lodestone". FINAL FANTASY XIV, The Lodestone. Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  37. "Idoioms".
  38. Graves, Joseph L. (2003). The Emperor's New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium. p. 1.
  39. Robbins, Hollis (Autumn 2003). "The Emperor's New Critique". New Literary History. 34 (4). Retrieved March 1, 2013.
  40. Zellner, William W. & Petrowsky, Marc (1998). Sects, Cults, and Spiritual Communities: A Sociological Analysis. p. 13. Like the villagers in the story of the emperor's new clothes, members of the inner circle were unwilling to reveal their ignorance by challenging .... As a result, they suppressed whatever doubts they had an worked even harder to make sense of what, in the final analysis, may have been nonsensical.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  41. Hansen, Jens Ulrik (2011). "A Logic-Based Approach to Pluralistic Ignorance". Retrieved March 1, 2013.


  • Adams, A.I. (2013). New Emperors' Novel Clothes - Climate Change Analysed. Connor Court Publishing Pty, Limited, 2013. ISBN 1922168807.
  • Andersen, Hans Christian; Tatar, Maria (Ed. and transl.); Allen, Julie K. (Transl.) (2008). The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-393-06081-2.
  • Andersen, Hans Christian; Wullschlager, Jackie (Ed.); Nunnally, Tiina (Transl.) (2005). Fairy Tales. New York: Viking. ISBN 0-670-03377-4.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Andersen, Hans Christian; Frank, Diane Crone (Ed. and transl.); Frank, Jeffrey (Ed. and transl.) (2005). The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen: A New Translation from the Danish. Durham and London: Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-3693-6.
  • Andersen, Jens; Nunnally, Tiina (Transl.) (2005). Hans Christian Andersen: A New Life. New York, Woodstock, London: Overlook Duckworth. ISBN 1-58567-737-X.
  • Bredsdorff, Elias (1975). Hans Christian Andersen: The Story of His Life and Work, 1805–75. London: Phaidon Press Ltd. ISBN 0-7148-1636-1.
  • Prince, Alison (1998). Hans Christian Andersen: The Fan Dancer. London: Allison & Busby Ltd. ISBN 0-7490-0478-9.
  • Robbins, Hollis (Autumn 2003). "Emperor's New Critique". New Literary History. 34 (4): 659–675. doi:10.1353/nlh.2004.0010. ISSN 0028-6087. (subscription required)
  • Wood, Naomi (2007). "The Ugly Duckling's Legacy: Adulteration, Contemporary Fantasy, and the Dark". Marvels & Tales. 20 (2): 193–207. doi:10.1353/mat.2007.0019.
  • Wullschlager, Jackie (2000). Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-91747-9.
  • Zipes, Jack David (2005). Hans Christian Andersen: The Misunderstood Storyteller. New York and Middleton Park: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-97433-X.
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