The lynch mob tromps through town, scaring women and children as they go, till they arrive at Sherburn’s home, where they tear down his fence. Sherburn calmly steps out onto the roof above his porch with a gun in hand, and is silent for a long time. Then he slowly and scornfully addresses the mob. He says he is safe from them as long as it is daytime and they are not behind him, because they are cowards and he is a “‘man’.” He tells them they are not really courageous but borrow courage from their mass. Sherburn goes back into his house and the mob, humiliated, disperses.
Sherburn calls the mob out on their hypocrisy, giving a psychological explanation for their (false) sense of empowerment as a group and a critique of their deficiencies as individuals. This is the most persuasive analysis of society in the novel. But its source, Sherburn himself, has just murdered a man in cold blood. Sherburn is free, but a danger to society in his freedom, a dark vision of what Huck could become if he follows a path of violence.
Huck goes to the circus, which he thinks splendid. A drunk man approaches the ringmaster of the circus and says he wants to ride a horse, impeding the progress of the circus such that the men in the audience swarm to throw the drunk man out. But the ringmaster lets him ride. The audience laughs save Huck, who trembles to see the drunk man endangered. But soon the drunk man stands on top of his horse and does tricks; he himself is a member of the circus. Huck is deeply impressed.
If Sherburn reveals the mob’s cowardice, the circus reveals its audience’s cruelty. Everyone save Huck laughs at the drunk man’s endangerment, when Huck’s empathetic trembling is maybe the more humane response to such a spectacle. But, we learn, the man is part of the circus all along. The boundary between the real and artificial is disturbingly porous in Huck’s world.
That night, the duke and king put on their performance of Shakespeare in town, but only twelve people show up, and they laugh the whole time. The duke says that the people of Arkansas aren’t cultured enough to appreciate Shakespeare, and he devises a way to give them the low comedy they want. He posts another bill in town, advertising: “THE KING’S CAMELEOPARD [giraffe] OR THE ROYAL NONESUCH.” The biggest line of the bill announces that ladies and children will not be admitted to see the show.
The duke and king’s performance of Shakespeare invites comparison with the circus: what makes the latter fun but the former ridiculous? The circus misrepresents itself just as the duke and king do, and the duke and king don’t endanger anyone as the circus does. It seems that the novel concludes that The Royal Nonesuch is harmless enough as a money-making scheme, and that the duke and king’s unique vice is in their ruthlessness when it comes to exploiting innocent people.