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Course Hero, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Study Guide," October 27, 2016, accessed December 15, 2017, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Adventures-of-Huckleberry-Finn/.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn | Chapter 21 | Summary

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Summary

The next morning the duke and the king practice for their Shakespeare production. They decide to include Hamlet's soliloquy in the presentation, but the duke has to recall it from heart. His version includes many mistakes but impresses Huck.

Huck and the con men go ashore in an Arkansas town. They put up signs about their show. The town is rundown, and its inhabitants are poor. By afternoon the streets grow crowded.

A drunk man named Boggs comes to town. He threatens to harm a man, but the townspeople say he is harmless and laugh at him. The man who is being threatened is Colonel Sherburn. He has had enough of the insults and warns Boggs he had better stop. Boggs continues and Sherburn shoots and kills him. The townspeople are worked up and eventually decide that Sherburn should be lynched. They go off with a rope looking for him.

Analysis

The duke and the king think highly of themselves. They claim to be smart, but the duke's version of Hamlet's soliloquy tells us otherwise: the very first line says, "To be, or not to be; that is the bare bodkin." The laughably bad rendition of Hamlet includes botched passages from other parts of the play (e.g., references to the "nunnery" exchange with Ophelia) and random lines from Macbeth and Richard III. The duke knows or has picked up enough to cheat others, but he is not an intelligent man. Huck is impressed with the rehearsals but even he, an uneducated boy, catches on to the con men just as others will, too.

The town where the con men choose to put on their show on is lazy and pathetic. The people are extremely poor and uneducated. If the con men were as wise as they think they are, they would move on. The people will not be interested in such a production and have no money to pay for tickets. These people find Boggs, the harmless yet angry town drunk, entertaining. In this town they cruelly shoot each other in cold blood, and people are anxious to watch someone take a last breath. They live a crude and ugly existence. By the end of the chapter they are an angry mob seeking justice.

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