The Emperor’s New Clothes

I posted my first blog on February 13, 2016.  Recent global events reminded me of a favourite childhood tale by Hans Christian Anderson; I thought it timely to reproduce the story:

There was once an Emperor who loved clothes and cared about nothing else other than spending his time and money on acquiring and showing off new clothes.  One day, two imposters arrived in the kingdom and professing to be master weavers, stated that they could weave the most magnificent fabrics imaginable from a special cloth that had a wonderful way of becoming invisible to anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid.

The Emperor thought “If I wore such clothes, I would be able to discover which men in my empire are unfit for their posts. And I could tell the wise men from the fools.” So he paid the two swindlers a large sum of money to start work at once.  They set up two looms and pretended to weave, though there was nothing on the looms. All the finest silk and the purest old thread which they demanded went into their traveling bags, while they worked the empty looms far into the night.

The Emperor sent one of his oldest and wisest ministers to see the weavers’ progress.  The honest old minister went to the room where the two swindlers sat working away at their empty looms.  “I can’t see anything at all”, he thought, but did not say so.  The imposters pointed out the fine material, exquisite pattern and lovely colours on the empty loom and asked his opinion on their work.

The minister thought, “Can it be that I’m a fool? I’d have never guessed it, and not a soul must know. Am I unfit to be the minister? It would never do to let on that I can’t see the cloth.” So he told the weavers, “Oh, it’s beautiful – it’s enchanting.  I’ll be sure to tell the Emperor how delighted I am with it.”

The swindlers at once asked for more money and materials, all of which they pocketed. Thus it went with other officials; not wishing to be seen as stupid or unworthy of their office, each visiting courtier praised the material he did not see and told the Emperor “It held me spellbound.”

Finally, the Emperor arrived himself and found the swindlers weaving away, but without a thread in their looms.  “Magnificent,” said the officials already duped. “Just look, Your Majesty, what colors! What a design!” They pointed to the empty looms, each supposing that the others could see the stuff.  “What’s this?” thought the Emperor. “I can’t see anything. This is terrible!  Am I a fool? Am I unfit to be the Emperor? What a thing to happen to me of all people!” So, he exclaimed to those present, “Oh! It’s very pretty,” he said. “It has my highest approval.”  His whole retinue stared. One saw no more than another, but they all joined the Emperor in lavishing praise and advised him to wear clothes made of this wonderful cloth especially for the great procession he was soon to lead.

Finally, the swindlers claimed they were finished.  The swindlers pretended to take the cloth off the loom and asked the Emperor to undress so they could put his new imaginary clothes on him.  They said, “These are the trousers, here’s the coat, and this is the mantle,” naming each garment. “Feel, each is as light as a spider web. One would almost think he had nothing on, but that’s what makes them so fine.”  As the Emperor turned round and round before the looking glass, everyone exclaimed, “How well Your Majesty’s new clothes look!”

Then the minister of public processions announced: “Your Majesty’s canopy is waiting outside.”

“Well, I’m supposed to be ready,” the Emperor said, and turned again for one last look in the mirror.

The noblemen who were to carry his train stooped low and reached for the floor as if they were picking up his mantle. Then they pretended to lift and hold it high. They didn’t dare admit they had nothing to hold.

So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, “Oh, how fine are the Emperor’s new clothes! Don’t they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!” Nobody would confess that he couldn’t see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool.

Suddenly, a little child piped up, “But he hasn’t got anything on”.

“Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?” said her father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, “He hasn’t anything on. A child says he hasn’t anything on.”

“But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.

The Emperor shivered for he suspected they were right, but thought, “This procession must go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.

The famous poet Mir Taqi Mir was pained when he had to leave his beloved Delhi, moving to Lucknow in 1782:

Dilli jo ek shaher thaa aalam mein intekhaabDelhi, that city which was once the world’s pride
rehte thay muntakhib hi jahaan rozgaar kewhere dwelt only the chosen souls of the age
Usko falak ne loot ke barbaad kar diyaFate looted it and laid it desolate
Hum rehne waaley hain ussi ujre dayaar kein that ravaged city did I once live

6 Replies to “The Emperor’s New Clothes”

  1. This wise tale is probably the first example of “speaking truth to power”! Something we are in dire need of in so places today. Thank you, as always, for the beautiful sher – a great way to mark the anniversary of your blog!


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