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The Prisoner of Zenda

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Author  Anthony Hope
Publisher  J. W. Arrowsmith
Pages  310 (first edition)
Playwright  Anthony Hope
Genre  Historical Fiction
3.9/5 Goodreads

Language  English
Publication date  1894
Originally published  1894
Country  United Kingdom
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Media type  Print (hardback & paperback)
Characters  Rudolf Rassendyll, Colonel Sapt, Princess Flavia
Adaptations  The Prisoner of Zenda (1952)
Similar  Princess Flavia, A Tale of Two Cities, The Prince and the Pauper, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Invisible Man

The Prisoner of Zenda (1894), by Anthony Hope, is an adventure novel in which the King of Ruritania is drugged on the eve of his coronation and thus is unable to attend the ceremony. Political forces within the realm are such that, in order for the king to retain the crown, his coronation must proceed. Fortuitously, an English gentleman on holiday in Ruritania who resembles the monarch is persuaded to act as his political decoy in an effort to save the unstable political situation of the interregnum.


The name of the villain in The Prisoner of Zenda, Rupert of Hentzau, is the title of the sequel novel, Rupert of Hentzau (1898), published four years later, and is included in some editions of The Prisoner of Zenda. The popularity of the novels inspired the Ruritanian romance genre of literature, film, and theatre that features stories set in a fictional country, usually in Central Europe and Eastern Europe, such as Ruritania, the Central European realm that named the genre, which includes the Graustark novels by George Barr McCutcheon.

The prisoner of zenda full audio book by anthony hope adventure fiction

Plot summary

On the evening of the coronation of King Rudolf of Ruritania, his brother, Prince Michael, has him drugged. In a desperate attempt to deny Michael the excuse to claim the throne, Colonel Sapt and Fritz von Tarlenheim, attendants of the king, persuade his distant cousin Rudolf Rassendyll, an English visitor, to impersonate the King at the coronation.

The unconscious king is abducted and imprisoned in a castle in the small town of Zenda. There are complications, plots, and counterplots, among them the schemes of Michael's mistress, Antoinette de Mauban, and those of his dashing but villainous henchman, Count Rupert of Hentzau.

Rassendyll falls in love with Princess Flavia, the King's betrothed, but cannot tell her the truth. He determines to rescue the king and leads an attempt to enter the castle of Zenda. The king is rescued and is restored to his throne, but the lovers, in duty bound, 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 interpreted by such matinee idols as Ramon Novarro (1922), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (1937), and James Mason (1952).

  • The Prisoner of Zenda (1895–96) was co-written by Hope and Edward Rose. It opened as a play in New York in 1895 starring E. H. Sothern and the next year on the West End in London starring Evelyn Millard.
  • 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 Ramón 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, C. Aubrey Smith as Colonel Zapt and David Niven as Captain Fritz von Tarlenheim. David O. Selznick decided to produce the film, partly as a comment on the Edward VIII abdication crisis, and it was directed by John Cromwell. Of the many film adaptations, this is considered by many to be the definitive version. Leslie Halliwell puts it at No. 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", 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".
  • 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 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 Rose, (dramatisation) 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) US television adaptation (DuPont Show of the Month), starring Christopher Plummer and Inger Stevens.
  • Jhinder Bandi (ঝিন্দের বন্দী-'The Prisoner of Jhind') is a Bengali translation by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. The author wrote, 'I admit the source by its name' (নাম দিয়াই বংশপরিচয় স্বীকার করিলাম) meaning, he named the fictional province, Jhind to admit the original novel.
  • Jhinder Bandi (1961): a Bengali film directed by Tapan Sinha, starring Uttam Kumar as the protagonist Gourishankar Roy (a youth from Kolkata) and the king Shankar Singh of the fictional Jhind state, Soumitra Chatterjee as the antagonist Mour-Bahon with Tarun Kumar as Gourishankar's brother Udit, based on the novel by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay of the same title.
  • 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. In this version Sellers plays the King, his father, and the other main character Syd Frewin, a London Hansom Cab driver, who finds himself employed as a double to the King and eventually changes places with him permanently.
  • The Prisoner of Zenda (1984): BBC adaptation starring Malcolm Sinclair.
  • Dave (1993): a retelling set in contemporary Washington DC starring Kevin Kline.
  • Prem Ratan Dhan Payo (2015) is a Bollywood film starring Salman Khan and Sonam Kapoor which follows a similar plot.
  • Gwange Wangyidoen namja also known as Masquerade is a 2012 Korean movie taking place during the Joseon Dynasty that largely parallels the story in Prisoner of Zenda, but may be based on conjecture about real historical person King Gwanghaegun of Joseon and a 15-day period where records are missing from the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty.
  • Homages

    Many subsequent 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.
  • E. Phillips Oppenheim's 1920 book The Great Impersonation (filmed in 1921, 1935 and 1942) makes use of the look-alike plot, this time between an English aristocrat and a German spy.
  • The Mad King, serialized in 1914 and 1915 and published in book form in 1926, was Edgar Rice Burroughs' version of the Ruritanian romance. Set in Europe immediately before and during World War I, his story differs from the Hope books in a number of details, though sharing much of their basic plot. He wrote one other story in the genre, 1919's The Rider, in which a prince and bandit exchange identities.
  • Dornford Yates acknowledged Hope's influence in his two novels Blood Royal (1929) and Fire Below a.k.a. By Royal Command (1930) which were set in the Ruritania-like Principality of Riechtenburg.
  • The plot of Dorothy Sayers's Have His Carcase (1932) revolves around an avid reader of Ruritanian romances who believed himself a descendant of Russian royalty.
  • The Magnificent Fraud (1939): a Robert Florey film starring Akim Tamiroff where an American actor impersonates the assassinated president of a South American republic.
  • Robert A. Heinlein adapted the Zenda plot line to his science fiction novel Double Star (1956) with great success
  • John Osborne's play The Blood of the Bambergs (1962) turns the plot into a satire on royal weddings.
  • The 1965 comedy film The Great Race included an extended subplot that parodies Zenda, including a climactic fencing scene between Leslie Gallant (Tony Curtis) and Baron Rolfe von Stuppe (Ross Martin). In the film Tony Curtis is seen doing what is only described in the 1937 The Prisoner of Zenda; he is seen swimming the moat, scaling the tower and eliminating some guards.
  • The Rip Kirby comic strip used the plot as the basis for one story.
  • 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 Ronald Colman's accent.
  • The 1970 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. Otto von Bismarck and other real people such as Lola Montez are involved in the plot. It was adapted as a film of the same title in 1975, directed by Richard Lester, starring Malcolm McDowell as Flashman and Oliver Reed as Bismarck..
  • The Doctor Who serial "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 Prisoner of Zen" (1979) by Peter Godfrey. Ruritanian farce exploring Zen themes in an occidental context. Produced by The Rational Theatre Company, the play toured the UK in 1979 and 1980.
  • 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. The Timekeepers kill Rassendyll so that the Time Commando Finn Delaney is sent back to impersonate the impersonator, both to ensure that history follows its true path and to defeat the terrorists. In the finale the Time Commandos assault Zenda Castle with lasers and atomic grenades, both to rescue the king and to destroy the Timekeepers base.
  • 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 as the 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.
  • The 1992 Adventures in Odyssey episode "An Act of Nobility" is a whole plot reference to The Prisoner of Zenda.
  • Dave, a 1993 film version adapted by Gary Ross and directed by Ivan Reitman that places the story in contemporary Washington, D.C., with Kevin Kline as the President and as 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.
  • 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 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.
  • Two episodes of Hercules: The Legendary Adventures featured Michael Hurst as Iolaus and his distant cousin, King Orestes.
  • De speelgoedzaaier, a Spike and Suzy comic by Willy Vandersteen, is loosely based on The Prisoner of Zenda.
  • Pale Fire, a 1962 novel by Vladimir Nabokov, includes Ruritanian elements in the (supposed?) life and events of the exiled king of "Zembla"
  • In "The Prisoner of Benda", an episode of the animated TV series Futurama, Bender impersonates (or rather, switches bodies with) the Emperor of Robo-Hungary as part of a scheme to steal the crown jewels.
  • The 1994 role-playing game "Castle Falkenstein" lists The Prisoner of Zenda as inspiration and even includes a character named Tarlenheim.
  • Coronets and Steel (Dobrenica Book 1, 2010) by Sherwood Smith is a modern fantasy version, which reinterprets the story in the European kingdom of Dobrenica with a young American woman playing double to her distant European cousin. The Flavia character becomes male and is merged with Tarlenheim as one of the instigators of the decoy plot. The remainder of the trilogy gives the star-crossed lovers resolution, without negating the original Zenda ending.
  • Legacy

    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 novel had been part of the syllabus of higher secondary schools in Pakistan for over three decades.


    The Prisoner of Zenda Wikipedia