In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” masks and other forms of disguise represent the power to deceive through cunning and trickery. Nearly all of the characters in this story attempt to disguise themselves, with varying degrees of success—success that, in turn, is directly linked with their intelligence. For example, the brilliant Sherlock Holmes is a master of disguise, and he is even able to deceive his closest companion, John Watson, early in the story when he arrives home to his apartment dressed as a drunken groomsman. Watson notes that Holmes doesn’t simply dress differently when disguising himself; he goes so far as to take on the personality and mannerisms of the character he is portraying, much like an actor on a stage. Similarly, Irene Adler manages to trick Holmes with her own disguise as a young man who casually greets Holmes and Watson as they discuss their plan to retrieve the photograph—an act that demonstrates her own remarkable cunning. Both of these characters use disguises to observe without being identified, and thus maintain power over those around them. The King of Bohemia, on the other hand, proves unsuited to the art of disguise, utterly failing to hide his true identity behind a mask when he first appears in the story. His pitiful attempt at disguise instead reveals more about his real character—namely, that he is unobservant and self-absorbed and does not have the depth of intellect to take on a role outside of himself. Consequently, despite his money and royal status, the King of Bohemia has little power in the story and is at the mercy of characters who are far more intelligent—and adept at disguise—than he is.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Disguises appears in A Scandal in Bohemia. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...received from a potential client, who announces that he will visit the detective wearing a mask to hide his true identity. The two men discuss the peculiarities of the letter, deducing... (full context)
...waits for an hour, when a “drunken-looking groom” arrives. Watson finally recognizes Holmes in his disguise, and the two men discuss the progress of the investigation up to that point. That... (full context)
...into revealing her hiding spot, but that she had turned the tables on him by disguising herself and eavesdropping on his conversation with Watson. She and Norton decided they must leave England... (full context)