I presented this speech at Toastmasters as part of the Story Telling manual.
Many years ago — there lived an Emperor who cared more about his beautiful clothes than anything else in his kingdom. He changed his clothes several times a day and never left his palace unless it gave him a chance to show off his new clothes.
The city where the Emperor lived was very busy and strangers came and went all the time. One day, two swindlers visited the palace. They claimed to be weavers and said that they knew how to weave the most beautiful cloth. The clothes made from their fabrics had the amazing ability of becoming invisible to those who were unfit for their jobs — or just hopelessly stupid.
The Emperor thought “If I wore something like that, I could tell which men in my kingdom were unfit for their jobs, and I would also be able to tell the smart ones from the stupid ones. Yes, I must have some of that fabric!” So he paid the swindlers a large sum of money so that they could get started at once.
The swindlers demanded the finest silk and the purest gold thread, which they promptly stowed away in their bags. Then they set up two looms and pretended to work. As you can imagine, there was nothing at all on their looms.
A few days later, the Emperor wondered how the weavers were getting on. But he was anxious about the fact that anyone who was stupid or unfit for his job would not be able to see what was being woven. Not that he had any fears about himself — but it might be better to send someone else first, to see how things were progressing.
“I will send my honest old minister to the weavers. He’s the best person to inspect the cloth, for he has plenty of good sense, and no one is better qualified for his job”
So off went the good-natured old minister to the workshop where the two swindlers were pretending to work at the empty looms. “God save us!” he thought when he saw the empty looks. “I can’t see a thing!”. But he was careful not to say that out loud.
The swindlers invited him to take a closer look. “Isn’t the pattern beautiful and the colors lovely?” The minister thought “Is it possible that I’m an idiot? Am I unfit for my job? I can’t admit I can’t see the cloth.”
“Well, why aren’t you saying anything?” asked one of the swindlers, who was pretending to be weaving.
“Oh, it’s enchanting! Quite exquisite!” the old minister said, peering over his spectacles. “That pattern and those colors! I shall tell the Emperor right away how much I like it.”
A few days later, the Emperor sent a second respected official to see when the cloth would be ready. The same thing happened. He looked as hard as he could, but since there was nothing there but an empty loom, he couldn’t see a thing.
“Isn’t this a beautiful piece of cloth!” the swindlers asked, as they described the lovely design that didn’t exist at all.
“I’m not stupid,” thought the man. “This can only mean that I’m not fit for my position. I’d better not let on.” And so he praised the cloth he could not see and described the nonexistent colours and patterns. He later told the Emperor, “The cloth is quite exquisite”.
The splendid fabric soon became the talk of the town.
Finally, the Emperor wanted to see the cloth for himself while it was still on the loom. Accompanied by the two officials who visited previously, he went to visit the crafty swindlers.
The two officials exclaimed “Look .. isn’t it magnificent? What a design! What colors!” And they pointed at the empty loom, feeling sure that all the others could see the cloth.
“What on earth!” thought the Emperor. “I can’t see a thing! This is appalling! Am I stupid? Am I unfit to be Emperor? This is the most horrible thing I can imagine happening to me!”
“Oh, it’s very beautiful!” the Emperor said. “It has our most gracious approval.”
And he gave a satisfied nod as he inspected the empty loom. He wasn’t about to say that he couldn’t see a thing. The old ministers repeated what the Emperor had said: “Oh, it’s very beautiful!”
The swindlers advised the Emperor to wear his splendid new clothes for the first time in the grand parade that was about to take place.
The Emperor knighted each of the two swindlers and gave them the title of Imperial Weaver.
On the morning of the parade, the Emperor returned to the swindlers. They pretended to remove the cloth from the loom; cut the air with big scissors; and sewed with needles that had no thread. Finally they announced: “There! The Emperor’s clothes are ready at last!”
“Just look at these trousers, the jacket, the cloak.” You can hardly tell you are wearing anything – the cloth is as light as a spider web.
“Now, would it please His Imperial Majesty to remove his clothes?” asked the swindlers. “Then we can fit you with the new ones.”
And so the Emperor took off his fine clothes, and the swindlers pretended to hand him each of the new garments they claimed to have made.
“Oh! How splendid His Majesty looks in the new clothes. What a perfect fit!” they all exclaimed. “What patterns! What colors!
The master of ceremonies arrived “The canopy for the parade is ready and waiting for Your Majesty.”
“I am ready,” said the Emperor. “The clothes suit me well, don’t they!” And he looked at himself in the mirror one more time.
The Emperor marched in the parade under the lovely canopy, and the crowd said: “The Emperor’s new clothes are the finest he has ever worn. What a perfect fit!” Noone wanted to let on that there was nothing at all to see, because that would have meant they were either unfit for their jobs or very stupid.
Never had the Emperor’s clothes made such a great impression.
Suddenly the voice of a child was heard “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”
“Did you hear the voice of that child!” someone cried. The child’s remark was whispered from one person to the next.
“The Emperor is not wearing any clothes!”
“The Emperor is not wearing any clothes!”
“He isn’t wearing anything at all!” the crowd shouted.
The Emperor cringed, for he was beginning to suspect that everyone was right.
But then he realized: “I must go through with it now, parade and all.” And he drew himself up more proudly than before and continued to walk .. wearing no clothes.
A 1977 animation of this tale is available on YouTube