Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” Analysis
“Te Masque of the Red Death” is rightfully considered to be one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most colorful stories. The tale is set in a castle belonging to Prince Prospero, a wealthy, powerful, and selfish monarch. Outside the walls of his castle, the plague, which the author names Red Death, devastates Prospero’s kingdom to the point where “his dominions were half depopulated” (Poe In Quinn 485). To avoid getting sick, Prospero secures himself and a “thousand hale and light-hearted friends” (485) behind an enormous wall protected with gates of iron. Locked safely inside, the Prince and his fellows establish an exclusive and enclosed world of pleasure: “There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there was Beauty, there was wine” (485).
During the five or six months of such life, Prospero continues to party within the castle, which has seven decorated chambers “so irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at a time” (486). The seven rooms correspond to Shakespeare’s seven ages of man and to the seven stages of deadly sin culminating in the worst of sins, pride (Carlson 34). The separate chambers, each completely decorated in a different color scheme, move from east (sunrise) to west (sunset), connected by a serpentine corridor. The most western of these rooms, however, is “shrouded in black velvet tapestries…but in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet—a deep blood color” (486). This room also contains a giant clock at whose chiming of the hour “it was observed that the giddiest grew pale” (487).
One evening Prospero hosts a “masked ball of the most unusual magnificence” (485). At the height of the party, an uninvited guest appears wearing a mask and costume meant to suggest the physical symptoms of contamination by the Red Death (Carlson 36). Prospero demands that all guests reveal their identities at midnight. After the unknown guest refuses, prince chases him through all the chambers of the castle, finally getting him in the black chamber. There, “within the shadow of the ebony clock,” the figure turns to face Prospero and reveals himself to be a ghost, “the grave-cerements and corpse-like mask…untenanted by any tangible form” (490). As the clock finishes sounding the midnight, each of the party guests, the prince included, falls to the ground “in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall” (490). The Red Death “had come like a thief in the night” (490). The final paragraph of the story, resembling the seven rooms in Prospero’s castle, contains seven clauses, each beginning with an “And,” providing the rhythm of a clocklike measurement of doom (Roppolo 66-67).