The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe
The Masque of the Red Death
"The Mask of the Red Death" (1842), is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. The story follows Prince Prospero's attempts to avoid a dangerous plague known as the Red Death by hiding in his abbey. He, along with many other wealthy nobles, has a masquerade ball within seven rooms of his abbey, each decorated with a different color. In the midst of their revelry, a mysterious figure enters and makes his way through each of the rooms. Prospero dies after confronting this stranger, as do the guests. The story follows many traditions of Gothic fiction and is often analyzed as an allegory about the inevitability of death, though some critics advise against an allegorical reading. Many different interpretations have been presented, as well as attempts to identify the true nature of the titular disease.
The story was first published in May 1842 in Graham's Magazine. It has since been adapted in many different forms, including the 1964 film starring Vincent Price. It has been alluded to by other works in many types of media.
The story takes place at the castellated abbey of the "happy and dauntless and sagacious" Prince Prospero. Prospero and one thousand other nobles have taken refuge in this walled abbey to escape the Red Death, a terrible plague with gruesome symptoms that has swept over the land. Victims feel overcome by convulsive agony and sweat blood instead of water. The plague is said to kill within half an hour. Prospero and his court are presented as indifferent to the sufferings of the population at large, intending to await the end of the plague in luxury and safety behind the walls of their secure refuge, having welded the doors shut.
One night, Prospero holds a masquerade ball to entertain his guests in seven colored rooms of the abbey. Six of the rooms are each decorated and illuminated in a specific color: Blue, purple, green, orange, white, and violet. The last room is decorated in black and is illuminated by a scarlet light- "a deep blood color": because of this chilling pair of colors, very few guests are brave enough to venture into the seventh room. The same room is also the location of a large ebony clock that ominously clangs at each hour, upon which everyone stops talking or dancing and the orchestra stops playing. Once the chiming stops, everyone acts like nothing happened and continues on with the masquerade. At the chiming of midnight, the revelers and Prospero notice one figure in a dark, blood-splattered robe resembling a funeral shroud, with an extremely realistic mask resembling a stiffened corpse, and with the traits of the Red Death, which all at the ball have been desperate to escape. Gravely insulted, Prospero demands to know the identity of the mysterious guest so that they can hang him. When nobody (out of fear) dares to approach the figure, instead letting him pass through the seven chambers, the Prince pursues him with a drawn dagger until he is cornered in the seventh room, the black room with the scarlet-tinted windows. When the figure turns to face him, the Prince lets out a sharp cry and falls dead. The enraged and terrified revelers surge into the black room and forcibly remove the mask and robe, only to find to their horror that there is no solid form underneath either. Only now do they realize (too late) that the figure is actually the Red Death itself, and all of the guests contract and succumb to the disease. The final line of the story sums up: "And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all."
In "The Masque of the Red Death" Poe adopts many conventions of traditional Gothic fiction, including the setting of a castle. The multiple single-toned rooms may be representative of the human mind, showing different personality types. The imagery of blood and time throughout also indicate corporeality. The plague may, in fact, represent typical attributes of human life and mortality. This would imply the entire story is an allegory about man's futile attempts to stave off death; this interpretation is commonly accepted. However, there is much dispute over how to interpret "The Masque of the Red Death"; some suggest it is not allegorical, especially due to Poe's admission of distaste for didacticism in literature. If the story really does have a moral, Poe does not explicitly state that moral in the text.
It is possible that the story is merely a revenge fantasy, in which the indifferent wealthy suffer the fate they "deserve", concocted by Poe in response to his observations of class distinctions of his day, a sublimation of his own frustrations at his own situation in life or perceived slights. The omniscient third-person narrator presents the arrival of the Red Death impassively, without regret, as if it is the logical consequence of moral depravity.
Blood, emphasized throughout the tale along with the color red, serves as a dual symbol, representing both death and life. This is emphasized by the masked figure – never explicitly stated to be the Red Death, but only a reveler in a costume of the Red Death – making his initial appearance in the easternmost room, which is colored blue, a color most often associated with birth.
Though Prospero's castle is meant to keep the sickness out, it is ultimately an oppressive structure. Its maze-like design and tall and narrow windows become almost burlesque in the final black room, so oppressive that "there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all." Additionally, the castle is meant to be a closed space, but the stranger is still able to get in, suggesting that control is an illusion.
Like many of Poe's tales, "The Masque of the Red Death" has also been interpreted autobiographically. In this point of view, Prince Prospero is Poe as a wealthy young man, part of a distinguished family much like Poe's foster parents, the Allans. Under this interpretation, Poe is seeking refuge from the dangers of the outside world, and his portrayal of himself as the only person willing to confront the stranger is emblematic of Poe's rush towards inescapable dangers in his own life.
The "Red Death"
The disease the Red Death is fictitious. Poe describes it as causing "sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores" leading to death within half an hour.
It is likely that the disease was inspired by tuberculosis (or consumption, as it was known then), since Poe's wife Virginia was suffering from the disease at the time the story was written. Like the character of Prince Prospero, Poe tried to ignore the fatality of the disease. Poe's mother Eliza, brother William, and foster mother Frances Allan had also died of tuberculosis. Alternatively, the Red Death may refer to cholera; Poe would have witnessed an epidemic of cholera in Baltimore, Maryland in 1831. Others have suggested that the plague is actually Bubonic plague or the Black Death, emphasized by the climax of the story featuring the "Red" Death in the "black" room. One writer likens the description to that of a viral hemorrhagic fever or necrotizing fasciitis. It has been suggested that the Red Death is not a disease or sickness at all but something else that is shared by all of humankind inherently.
Diríamos que es un cuento de lo grotesco (aunque posee un pequeño arabesco en su interior, en el sentido de que el mundo en miniatura del castillo de Próspero, en definitiva, se sólo la reproducción del mundo exterior en su mortalidad y miniatura).
El sentido de grotesco, aunque incluye la acepción de deformidad, tiene más que ver con un aspecto estético, sin embargo, como es el de la fascinación por lo oscuro y extemporáneo.
Empezando por la situación, evocación del Decamerón o Los Cuentos de Canterbury, con un país asolado por la peste; la noción, algo moralista pero potente, de la inevitabilidad de los destinos humanos; la referencia, esta vez directa, a las Danzas de la Muerte (el concepto de que la muerte llega a todos se produce en un baile de máscaras; la misma personificación de la Muerte Roja parece danzar por las diversas estancias de la abadía); dos símbolos ineluctablemente unidos como son la muerte y el tiempo, representado por ese reloj de ébano. Por no hablar de la imagen que para alguien tan amante de la cultura clásica como Edgar Allan Poe debió de representar una atracción irresistible, como es el tema del "et in Arcadia Ego", en el cual en la Arcadia feliz y en el paraíso despreocupado aparece de pronto la calavera, el recuerdo de la mortalidad.
Es mucho. Y sin embargo, con una prosa imaginista y levemente barroca, Poe introduce todo esto de forma medida y natural en un relato de tensión creciente, un texto narrativo y citable cual si se tratara de un poema que avanza hasta su último verso (casi no se puede hablar de frase): "And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death hold illimitable dominion over all" [Y la Oscuridad, la Decadencia y la Muerte Roja ejercieron su ilimitado dominio sobre todo], en un final rotundo, espléndido, total.
“The Masque of the Red Death” is an allegory. It features a set of recognizable symbols whose meanings combine to convey a message. An allegory always operates on two levels of meaning: the literal elements of the plot (the colors of the rooms, for example) and their symbolic counterparts, which often involve large philosophical concepts (such as life and death). We can read this story as an allegory about life and death and the powerlessness of humans to evade the grip of death. The Red Death thus represents, both literally and allegorically, death. No matter how beautiful the castle, how luxuriant the clothing, or how rich the food, no mortal, not even a prince, can escape death. In another sense, though, the story also means to punish Prospero’s arrogant belief that he can use his wealth to fend off the natural, tragic progress of life. Prospero’s arrogance combines with a grievous insensitivity to the plight of his less fortunate countrymen. Although he possesses the wealth to assist those in need, he turns his wealth into a mode of self-defense and decadent self-indulgence. His decadence in throwing the masquerade ball, however, unwittingly positions him as a caged animal, with no possible escape.
The rooms of the palace, lined up in a series, allegorically represent the stages of life. Poe makes it a point to arrange the rooms running from east to west. This progression is symbolically significant because it represents the life cycle of a day: the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, with night symbolizing death. What transforms this set of symbols into an allegory, however, is the further symbolic treatment of the twenty-four hour life cycle: it translates to the realm of human beings. This progression from east to west, performed by both Prospero and the mysterious guest, symbolizes the human journey from birth to death. Poe crafts the last, black room as the ominous endpoint, the room the guests fear just as they fear death. The clock that presides over that room also reminds the guests of death’s final judgment. The hourly ringing of the bells is a reminder of the passing of time, inexorable and ultimately personal.
As in many Poe stories, the use of names contributes to the symbolic economic context of the story and suggests another set of allegorical interpretations. For example, Prospero, whose name suggests financial prosperity, exploits his own wealth to stave off the infiltration of the Red Death. His retreat to the protection of an aristocratic palace may also allegorize a type of economic system that Poe suggests is doomed to failure. In the hierarchical relationship between Prospero and the peasantry, Poe portrays the unfairness of a feudal system, where wealth lies in the hands of the aristocracy while the peasantry suffers. This use of feudal imagery is historically accurate, in that feudalism was prevalent when the actual Bubonic Plague devastated Europe in the fourteenth century. The Red Death, then, embodies a type of radical egalitarianism, or monetary equality, because it attacks the rich and poor alike.
The portrayal of the masquerade ball foreshadows the similar setting of the carnival in “The Cask of Amontillado,” which appeared less than a year after “The Masque of the Red Death.” Whereas the carnival in “The Cask of Amontillado” associates drunken revelry with an open-air Italian celebration, the masquerade functions in this story as a celebratory retreat from the air itself, which has become infected by the plague. The masquerade, however, dispels the sense of claustrophobia within the palace by liberating the inner demons of the guests. These demons are then embodied by the grotesque costumes. Like the carnival, the masquerade urges the abandonment of social conventions and rigid senses of personal identity. However, the mysterious guest illuminates the extent to which Prospero and his guests police the limits of social convention. When the mysterious guest uses his costume to portray the fears that the masquerade is designed to counteract, Prospero responds antagonistically. As he knows, the prosperity of the party relies upon the psychological transformation of fear about the Red Death into revelry. When the mysterious guest dramatizes his own version of revelry as the fear that cannot be spoken, he violates an implicit social rule of the masquerade. The fall of Prospero and the subsequent deaths of his guests follow from this logic of the masquerade: when revelry is unmasked as a defense mechanism against fear, then the raw exposure of what lies beneath is enough to kill.
Edgar Allan Poe used symbolism in the names he used in his story. The name of the story itself is a symbol. "The Masque" to the average person means the mask, but the definition for masque is a masquerade which is a dance in which persons where masks and other disguises. The "Red Death" is also symbolic. In many religions the color red is associated closely with death. So what Poe meant by the name of the story is the dance of death which it truly becomes.
Another symbolic name is Prince Prospero, which is the tragic figure in this story. The word "próspero" in Italian and Spanish means prospering or to prosper. This is very ironic because Prospero dies a tragic death at the end. Prospero was also a name of a character in William Shakespeare's The Tempest. Shakespeare's character and Poe's character are similar because they were both dukes.
As a young adult he focused much of his attention on short fiction. He was credited with creating the detective story and known for his psychological and often violent thrillers. He is also known for his macabre themes and for having a fascination with death. Literary students should recognize these characteristics associated with Poe's writings were shaped by many tragedies in his life, such as abandonment of his father, untimely death's of his mother, brother, wife, and other loved one's, and the problems he faced with his adoptive father.
"The Masque of the Red Death" is an elaborate allegory that combines objects in the story with visual descriptions to give focus to the reader's imagination. Poe's story takes place in seven connected but carefully separated rooms. This reminds the reader of the past significance of the number seven. (The history of the world was thought to consist of seven ages, just as an individual's life had seven stages.) Therefore, a reading of this story suggests that the seven rooms represent the seven stages of one's life, from birth to death, through which the prince pursues a figure masked as a victim of the Red Death, only to die himself in the final chamber of eternal night. The prince's name suggests happiness and good fortune, and the prince, just like all beings uses happiness to wall out the threat of death. Prince Prospero's masked ball or dance reminds me of the "dance of death" portrayed in old paintings as a skeleton leading a throng of people to the grave, just as the prince leads his guests to the Red Death. He hides behind impenetrable walls of his castellated abbey and lets the world take care of its own. Visual descriptions in the story are used to symbolize death. Poe's use of language and symbolism is shown in his description of the seventh room in the suite, and the ebony clock.
The significance of the seventh room is apparent throughout the entire story. Black usually is symbolic of death, and this is used heavily throughout the story. Furthermore, in describing the black decor of the room, the narrator says it is "shrouded"(Poe 184) in velvet, shrouded being a term generally referring to death. The relationship between blood and death is an essential aspect because Poe wants the reader to have a visual image of the blood flowing down the walls as a form of death. This is an obvious reference to the Red Death. The relationship between the Red Death and time is a key to understanding the symbolic meaning of the story. The seven rooms are laid out from east to west, reminding us of the course of the sun, which measures our earthly time. These rooms are lighted from without, and it is only in the seventh room where the colour of the windows does not correspond with the colour of the room, but instead is "a deep blood colour"(Poe 184) through which light illuminates the westernmost chamber of black, with an ebony clock on its western wall. In creating this room, Poe links the colours red and black with death and time.
In Edgar Allen Poe's story "The Masque of the Red Death", he uses symbolism of the rooms, time, and the red death to portray his theme that no one can escape death. The masque was held in Prince Prospero's imperial suite that consisted of seven different and symbolic rooms. The fact that there where seven rooms was symbolic in itself. Many believe that the world was created in seven days. It was also said that there are seven stages in a person's life. I think Poe used the number of rooms in accordance with the stages of life. The rooms were arranged from east to west with the same process which we measure time. In the east, the room was blue as day and the western room was black as if the sun had set hours ago. The rooms were not arranged so one could see completely into the future rooms. Poe stated," The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect." I think Poe shows that the path of life is not easily predictable. Each stage was different and had "a novel effect". The windows in each room were coloured the same as room it looked upon except the windows in the black room.
The Prince's abbey is an illusion of safety used as a symbol in the story. The Prince thinks he is safe from the disease while in his abbey with his closest friends. "The wall has gates of iron" (78) this shows how secure he wants to feel.
The prince's name, Prospero, generally denotes happiness and prosperity. The Prince possesses these characteristics yet is faced with a plague that he desperately attempting to avoid. This oxymoron is used to hint that this man of exuberance will soon be faced with tragedy. The fires in each of the suite rooms serve as a representation of death. Poe depicts them to be "a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire that projected its rays through tinted glass...But in the western or black chamber, the effect of the firelight upon the dark hangings through the blood tinted panes was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who enter it that there are few...bold enough to set foot within it". The description is meant to produce a mysterious atmosphere in the west in contrast to a propitious one in the east. This can relate to the pattern of the sun's movement. The sunrise in the east represents light and new life for the day. However, the sunset in the west means the end of a day and darkness. In the short story, The Masque of the Red Death, by Edgar Allen Poe was very dark and mysterious. Through the descriptions the characters were faced to deal with death even against their own will. Throughout the story the characters ran from the thoughts of death. For example, Poe says, “dreams are stiff frozen as they stand. But the echoes of the chime die away-they have endured but an instant-and, a light, half-subdued laughter floats after them as they depart." When the words they have endured but an instant is saying they have gotten away for a second.
"The Masque of the Red Death", written by Edgar Allan Poe, is about a masquerade party, hosted by a man named Prince Prospero. During the course of a plague, Prince Prospero invites together his friends to come to his castle for fun. In the middle of the party, the gathering is interrupted by a guest dressed in garments associated with the plague of the "Red Death". Without explanation, all the guests begin to die as they acknowledge the "Red Death". The theme of the story is "No one can escape death, or predict it." This is evident in Edgar Allan Poe's use of symbolism used throughout the story to signify death. He used Prince Prospero, the seven rooms, the clock, and the title to show this theme.
The character Prince Prospero is a good example of how no one can escape death. He's rich, successful and an upper class person. His name Prospero suggests happiness and of good fortune, characteristics which he possesses. Ironically, he's faced with a plague that he desperately attempts to avoid. He stays inside partying to give himself a sense of happiness and secludes himself to hide from the disease. He uses happiness to rule out the threat of death just like all other human beings. His eventual death shows that no one can escape death under all circumstances. Death is superior to all powers and can overcome anything, as it overcame Prospero's "impenetrable" wall.
The seven rooms also symbolize how death cannot be escaped.
The setting in "The Masque of the Red Death" plays an intricate role in the story by foreshadowing the death and suffering of the red death and the loss of life that was sure to happen. The story is set in Europe during the time of the red death inside the prince's castellated abbeys. While there were people dying outside of the walls of this abbey, the people within were having a good time at a ball, dancing with music and food without a care in the world. "Security [was] within. Without was the Red Death", the people within the abbey were trying to escape death and forget about all of the troubles of those outside of the walls who were dying painful deaths from the red death. Poe says "... courtiers might bid defiance to contagion"; this says that the people inside were trying to lock out the death that would inevitably get them. This quote about the setting may have some sarcasm that is conveying that the people inside thought they disease would never get them because they were better, but in fact the disease was bigger and more powerful than them and it was futile to try and prevent becoming a victim of it. The abbey was eccentric and flourishing with the prince's outlandish designing. In the abbey there were seven rooms, of which one could not be seen from another. In each of theses rooms there was one tall window of the same color of stained glass as the rest of the rooms, except for the last.
Literary Analysis of "The Masque of the Red Death"
In the story, The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe, the author tries to create a specific atmosphere to emphasize the action within the story. The setting of the story immensely helps to create this atmosphere. Poe's descriptive setting aids in creating the atmosphere of the story by developing mood, evoking feelings from the reader, and creating a false sense of security.
The setting of The Masque, which Poe effectively and thoroughly illustrates, helps to create a desired atmosphere by developing the mood of the story. Poe describes the masque as "a gay and magnificent revel" in which "the prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure." This creates a joyous and blissful mood, and shows that the masque, for the most part, was a rather jubilant occasion. However, Poe also illustrates how a gigantic ebony clock, located in the westernmost apartment of the abbey, causes "the giddiest to grow pale".
The Symbolism of Clock in The Masque of Red Death
Authors create stories to tickle us funny, make us weep, or shock us to the core. While some stories are easily forgotten, there are those that leave a lasting impression in one's mind. The mood that an author creates is vital in leaving this impression on his or her audience. In the short story "Masque of the Red Death", Poe uses the symbolism of the clock, the seventh room, and jarring colors to achieve an ominous and foreboding mood.
The gigantic ebony clock is an important symbolic object in the story that helps created the ominous mood. "Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute hand made the circuit...it was observed that the giddiest turned pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation". This timekeeper represents the passing of time in one's life. Although the gallant party has escaped the horror that surrounds them, each passage of the minute hand brings them closer to their impending doom. The clock is a very ominous figure. One can tell that although the people appear to be having fun, something bad will happen soon. Time is slowly running out for these partygoers.
Poe, a master of illusion, uses this talent to keep his audience in suspense throughout the story. He uses symbols such as the seven coloured rooms and the clock, to portray to his readers what appears to be a fairytale. However, Poe takes this fairytale and transforms it into "The Masque of the Red Death," a nightmare in disguise.
The theme of this story is the inevitability of death. Prince Prospero was "happy and dauntless and sagacious" and his only thoughts were of pleasure. He is foolish in thinking he could escape death. Prince Prospero also knows that he is far too noble to catch a disease and die of it. The Prince decides to out wait the disease. He thinks that whiles the "pestilence raged most furiously abroad" that he can revel in pleasure and be safe.
The Prince is seen by his followers as a wise and a fearless foreseer. His followers worship him because of his ability to circumvent the "Red Death." Yet, the author presents the Prince as a coward. He worries about his own proper interests, and leaves the common people "to take care of it." His decision to out wait the disease "to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys" leaves us to believe that deep down he is really afraid to face the "Red Death." The Prince creates a wonderful kingdom to forget the reality of the” Red Death." Each time the gigantic clock of ebony strikes, it reminds the Prince and his "light-hearted" friends of the advent of the disease; it reminds all of them of terror, horror and disgust. They all try to believe it doesn't exists, that they are all immune to the Red Death: "But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness!
The Masque of the Red Death.
o Prince Prospero.
o The Red Death.
o La multitud
The Red Death not only symbolizes death...but specifically tuberculosis..this disease affected many people that Poe loved dearly, and he watched them die. This is why the Red Death kills in a matter of half an hour...because he felt like the time spent with the suffering people was too short. The Prince Prospero also is a symbol. His name and everything about him is ironic...or a contradictoin. He is described as prosperous and sagacious...but he is in fact killed by the red Death and is not very intelligent because he attempted to take on the Red Death single handedly. Prince Propero's rather eccentric taste in furnishing shows his insanity and they are symbols. Six of the seven rooms are all furnished in the same color with stained glass windows of the same color. Blue represents the insanity of all the guest and Prince Prospero. Purple represents nobility. Green represents naiivitay and greed. They are all naiive in believing they can cheat death by hiding behind iron bars and escape death. The white represents childlike innocence...becuase they have a juvenille mentality because they are trying to escape the inevitable. Orange represents the energy of the atmosphere between clock chimes. The violet represents the dusk..or closing of thier lives...the black room is the only one with the blood red windows...this room represents death. THe clock represents the passing of time.
The Masque of the Red Death Summary (Dominika)
How It All Goes Down
A terrible disease called the Red Death has struck the country. It's incredibly fatal, horribly gruesome, and it's already killed off half the kingdom. But the ruler of these parts, Prince Prospero, doesn't seem to care about his poor, dying subjects. Instead, he decides to let the kingdom take care of itself while he and a thousand of his favorite knights and ladies shut themselves up in a fabulous castle to have one never-ending party. Wine, women, music, dancing, fools – Prospero's castle has it all. After the last guest enters, no one else can get in – the Prince has welded the doors shut. That means no one can get out, either…
About five or six months into his stay, Prospero decides to have a spectacular masquerade ball (a ball where the guests where masks and costumes). The setup is weird and wild, just like the Prince who designs it. The ball takes place in a suite of seven rooms, each one dressed up in a different color: blue, purple, green, orange, white, violet, and black. The black room, which looks like death, is awfully creepy – it's got dark black walls, blood red windows, and big black clock which chimes so eerily every hour that everybody at the party stops dancing and laughs nervously. Most of the frolicking masqueraders are too weirded out to go into the black room.
Anyway, the party's in full swing and everybody's having a wild time when the clock strikes midnight. Everyone stops dancing and falls momentarily silent, as usual. Then some of the dancers notice a guest no one had seen before, wearing a scandalous costume. Whoever the new guest is, he's decided to dress as a corpse, a corpse who died of…the Red Death. He's so frighteningly lifelike (deathlike?) he freaks everybody out, and he slowly starts "stalking" through the frightened crowd. When Prince Prospero sees the ghostly guest, he's furious that someone would have the nerve to wear such a costume, and orders him to be seized and unmasked. But no one has the guts to do it, including Prospero himself.
The Red Death masquerader passes within a few feet of the Prince and starts to walk through the rooms, heading toward the black room. Prospero loses it and runs after him in a rage, drawing his dagger as he approaches. But just as Prospero reaches the edge of the black room, the corpselike guest suddenly whirls around to face him, and Prospero falls to the ground, dead. The shocked crowd throws itself at the guest, only to discover in horror that there's nothing underneath the mask and costume. The Red Death itself has come to the party. One by one the guests die, spilling their blood all over Prospero's lavish rooms. The candles go out, leaving only "darkness, decay, and the Red Death."