The Masque of the Red Death

“The Masque of Red Death” is a story by a famous American writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe. It was published for the first time in Graham’s Magazine in 1842 and then it had the word “Fantasy” in the title.

The story is about a young man Prince Prospero that gathered 1000 healthy young people, mostly nobility that hid with him inside a castle from the Red Death – a horrible disease that in only a few hours would cause massive bleeding and death. Prospero organized a costumed ball that held place in several rooms. Every room was of a specific color (blue, green, white, purple…) while the seventh one was black with red lighting and only the bravest dared to enter it. An unknown person behind a red mask appears amongst the guests. Prospero wants to face him, kick him out and have him hanged but when the mysterious guest takes of his mask Prospero dies out of shock. It appears that the person under the mask wasn’t a person but the Red Death that managed to sneak inside the castle.

The story has some elements of gothic fiction, especially for the place where the plot is settled. The castle is considered to be a representation of human personalities because of the colors that dominate in each room. The castle is a symbol of protection and its walls should keep the disease away. The protection proves to be an illusion because something or someone managed to get inside the castle.

The motive of the plague is a symbol of human mortality that catches up with everyone, no matter how rich they are or how well they try to hide. The motive of blood appears frequently and together with the red color that is inserted into the story from the title symbolizes death as well as life.

This story, like many others written by Poe, has some autobiographical elements. It is believed that Prospero is actually the young, healthy and wealthy Poe that was scared of the outer world. Also many think that Poe wrote down his experience with his wife’s tuberculosis and the fight against cholera in Baltimore in 1831 in this story. Even though the Red Death itself is a fiction, it was based on these two illnesses.

Genre: short story

Place: castle

Time: 18th century

Summary

The plague was called Red Death because it has taken numerous lives and placed people through a though and painful death. The victims would first feel a sharp pain, then dizziness and then they would start to bleed and in the end they would die. Everything lasted for about half an hour and because of the blood the plague was called the Red Death.

Prospero decided not to be taken by the disease and not let it influence the party he was throwing. After half of the people were gone from his property he invited 1000 of his healthy friends, knights and ladies. They went to a big, magnificent castle surrounded by big walls. They shut the door so that no one would be able to come in. They had a lot of food, had fun and didn’t even think about the illness and the situation outside.

Prospero took care of everything – from the dancers, musicians to wine and beautiful women. The most important thing was to keep everyone safe from the illness while the illness itself destroyed cities and killed people all around.

They were inside the castle for 6 months already when Prospero invited them all to a masked ball. The ball was taking place in 7 different rooms that were organized so that from one room you could see what was happening in the next room. After every 20-30 steps people would reach a sharp turn and on every turn there was a different effect. On the left and right side of each wall there was a mirror with a gothic glass through which you could see a closed hallway that linked all of the sharp turns.

The gothic mirrors were painted according to the decorations in the room. The first room, which was on the eastside, was decorated in blue. The other one was purple, the third one was green, the fourth one was orange, the fifth one was completely white and the sixth one was violet. The seventh room was special because it had a black carpet and curtains while the window was of a bloody- red color. Everyone avoided that room because it had bad lighting and was very mysterious.

In that room a big clock stroke every full hour and the people would have a serious face and would listen to the horrible sound with discomfort. As soon as it was over they would start laughing and having fun again.

Prospero had a strange, buy yet a fancy sense for esthetic. He picked the masks for the dance himself – they were full of glare and glitter. They had some colorful lining that made them look like a mask of a crazy person.

There were a lot of things that were nice, funny but also repulsing. The masked people moved from one room to another, the orchestra kept on playing and the party was complete. People danced like never before but still no one would enter the red room.

After midnight they spotted a masked creature that didn’t fit in at all. His mask provoked fear and disgust. The mask was different from all of the others but the guests didn’t think of it as funny or decent.

The creature was wrapped in a cape and the mask reminded everyone of a dead man. The crowd would maybe even put up with the mask if it didn’t represent the Red Death and was covered with blood.

It moved slowly between the dancers and Prospero trembled at the mere sight of it. He felt horror and disgust so he asked the person under the mask how does she dear to make a joke like that. He got angry and ordered it to take off the mask so that everyone would know who to hang.

People wanted to take off the mask but because of some strange fear they stopped. The mask approached Prospero and the others started to withdraw. Prospero did the same thing and then he ended in the red room. Out of fear or maybe shame he pulled out his sword. The mask entered into the room and a scream was heard. The lifeless body of Prospero hit the floor.

Everyone rushed into the room to see what was happening. They grabbed the mask and were stunned when they realized there was nothing touchable behind the cape and the mask.

They finally realized that Red Death came into the castle, like a thieve in the night. One lifeless body after another started hitting the ground. After the last man went down, the big clock stopped working.

Characters: Prospero, Red Death

Character analysis

Prince Prospero – young man that wanted to save himself from a terrible disease. He was wealthy and decided to make his castle a shelter from the illness and since he had a tendency to have a good time, he invited 1000 of his healthy friends to join him. Food, liquor and fun were all around. The crowd had everything to live a hedonistic and a nice lifestyle while being safe in the castle. The illness taking lives outside wasn’t their concern. Prospero believed that it was every man for himself so he didn’t have mercy for others.

He was a bit bizarre in his way of having fun, had a wide imagination and was prone for adventures. Prospero could be called an artist and his friends were an audience for which he was never wrong. By making the red room, Prospero tried to show that he bowed down to no one and that he wasn’t interested in making something ordinary and comfortable but something intriguing.

His temper is best shown in the moment he sees the masked intruder. He wanted to have everything his way in an exaggerated way – by hanging the intruder. His temper cost him his life. He didn’t manage to avoid death, hide himself from the illness which was the whole point of his isolation. The illness found its way to Prospero just like it did with all of the others.

Edgar Allan Poe biography