Many, many years ago in a great city, lived an emperor, who loved clothes. He loved clothes so much that he spent all his money on them. His only ambition was to always be well dressed.
He did not care for his soldiers, and the theatre did not amuse him. The only thing, in fact, he ever wanted to do, was to show off his new clothes.
He had a coat for every day and different slippers for every hour. He changed his socks every half an hour and his hat at a quarter past two every afternoon.
If anyone ever asked for him, they would be told: the emperor’s in his dressing room.
The great city where he lived was always busy and colourful. One day, two tricksters came to the city. They told everyone they were weavers – makers of cloth – and went around claiming that they could make the most wonderful cloth in the world.
“That’s right Ladies and Gentlemen! Not only is it the finest, thinnest material ever made, but it’s a teller of stupidity… Our fabric can only be seen by clever people. Stupid people and people who aren’t good enough for their jobs see nothing at all!”
Well the news of this magical cloth buzzed from the street to street. Through the pub, the market, the baker, the butcher, the doctor – everyone was talking about this amazing cloth. The news even made its way to the door of the emperor!
“That must be wonderful cloth,” thought the emperor. “If I were to be dressed in a suit made from this cloth, I should be able to tell which men in my empire were unfit for their employment, and I could tell the clever from the stupid. I must have this cloth woven for me without delay. Besides, I haven’t had a new suit since yesterday – and I’ve already worn it once!”
He gave a large sum of money to the two men so they could start work immediately on a suit from their precious cloth.
In a little room, they set up two looms. These machines were for making the cloth and the men sat down and seemed to be very hard at work. They asked for the finest silk and the most precious gold thread. But they did nothing whatsoever. They were just pretending!
“I should like very much to know how they are getting on with the cloth,” thought the emperor. But he felt rather nervous. He remembered that anyone who was unsuitable for his job couldn’t see it. He was sure he’d be able to see it, by he decided to send his minister… just in case.
“He can judge best how the stuff looks, for he is intelligent and understands his office better than anyone!”
The good old minister went into the room where the tricksters sat before the looms.
“Goodness Gracious!” he thought, and opened his eyes wide. “I cannot see anything at all. Can I be so stupid? Is it possible that I am not fit for my office? No, no, I cannot say that I was unable to see the cloth. Oh, it’s very pretty. Exceedingly beautiful. I shall tell the emperor that I like the cloth very much!”
Now the men asked for more money, more silk and more gold thread. Of course, they didn’t need any. They hid it for themselves and they continued to work on the make-believe cloth.
Soon afterwards the emperor sent another honest courtier to the weavers to see how they were getting on, and to see if the cloth was nearly finished.
Like the old minister, he looked and looked but could see nothing!
“I am not stupid! So, am I therefore not good enough for my job? I must not let anyone know it.”
So, he too praised the cloth which he did not see, and expressed his joy at the beautiful colours and the fine pattern.
“It is very excellent,” he said to the emperor.
Everybody in the whole town talked about the precious cloth. They too wanted to see how stupid their neighbours were and how worthy of their jobs their bosses were.
Now, the emperor appreciated the time needed to make beautiful clothes and he did not wish to rush the weavers, but he was getting impatient and he wanted to see it himself.
With a number of courtiers, including the two who had already been there, he went to the two clever tricksters.
“Isn’t it magnificent?” said the minister.
“Quite exquisite!” agreed the honest courtier hoping that no one could tell they couldn’t see anything.
“What is this?” thought the emperor, “I do not see anything at all. This is terrible! Am I stupid? Am I unfit to be emperor? That would indeed be the most dreadful thing that could happen to me!”
“Really!” he said, turning to the weavers, “your cloth has our most gracious approval.”
And, nodding contentedly, he looked at the empty loom. All his courtiers looked. And although they could see nothing at all, all advised him to wear the new clothes at a great procession which was to take place the very next day!
That whole night the weavers pretended to work, and burned more than sixteen candles. People should see that they were busy trying to finish the emperor’s new suit. They pretended to take the cloth from the loom. And they cut about the air with big scissors. And they pretended to sew with needles using pretend thread.
And finally, at six o’clock in the morning, one said:
“The emperor’s new suit is now ready.”
The emperor and all his courtiers then came to the hall. The weavers held their arms up and said:
“We are pleased to present you with your new suit, Emperor. These are the trousers. That is the coat! And here is the cloak. Careful, it’s very long. They are all as light as a cobweb. And you will feel as if you have nothing on at all.”
Nobody in the room could see a thing! But nobody wanted to appear stupid, or to lose their jobs, so they all clapped and congratulated the weavers on their work.
The weavers then said:
“Does it please your Majesty now to graciously undress, that we may assist your Majesty in putting on the new suit?”
Well, the emperor undressed. And the tricksters pretended to put the new suit upon him. First the trousers. Then the coat. And then the cloak.
The emperor looked at himself in the mirror from every side. Underwear! All he could see was his teddy-bear underwear! But he nervously smiled and said:
“I am ready!”
The emperor proudly stepped in to the courtyard and led the procession down the street. He felt wonderful when he reached the street and it was lined with cheering city folk, waving and clapping
“What a wonderful suit the emperor is wearing!”
“What a long train he has on his cloak!”
“How well it fits him!”
Each and every person on the street was so afraid that they might be stupid, that they all pretended they could see the suit!
Never before had the Emperor’s clothes been so admired!
Then, suddenly, from deep within the noisy crowd, came a little voice. The voice of a confused little girl:
“But he has nothing on at all!”
Everyone drew in their breaths. Was the child stupid? Or right?
They all looked at each other, not sure whether to be honest or to carry on pretending…
“We should listen to the voice of an innocent child. She has no job and can’t be stupid, she’s too young!” said the father.
And one whispered to another and whispered to another what the child had said, and each person was relieved to hear: but he has nothing on at all!
The emperor heard this and it made a deep impression upon him, for it seemed that she was right.
“I am walking through the street in nothing but my underwear! Well, I can’t just run and hide now, I must bear up to the end. At least I’m wearing my teddy-Bear underwear!” he thought.
So, he carried on, holding himself tall. And they all finished the procession with dignity… in a suit that didn’t exist.
Well, so much for the emperor’s new clothes!