” “The Emperor’s New Clothes” (Danish: Kejserens nye klæder) is a literary folktale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, about a vain emperor who gets exposed before his subjects. The tale has been translated into over 100 languages.
“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.
Two swindlers arrive at the capital city of an emperor who spends lavishly on clothing at the expense of state matters. Posing as weavers, they offer to supply him with magnificent clothes that are invisible to those who are stupid or incompetent. The emperor hires them, and they set up looms and go to work. A succession of officials, and then the emperor himself, visit them to check their progress. Each sees that the looms are empty but pretends otherwise to avoid being thought a fool. Finally, the weavers report that the emperor’s suit is finished. They mime dressing him and he sets off in a procession before the whole city. The townsfolk uncomfortably go along with the pretense, not wanting to appear inept or stupid, until a child blurts out that the emperor is wearing nothing at all. The people then realize that everyone has been fooled. Although startled, the emperor continues the procession, walking more proudly than ever.
Andersen’s tale is based on a 1335 story from the Libro de los ejemplos (or El Conde Lucanor), 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”. 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.
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.”