The Masque of the Red Death

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"The Masque of the Red Death", originally published as "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. 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.

Contents

Plot summary

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 that has swept over the land. The symptoms of the Red Death are gruesome: The victim is overcome by convulsive agony and sweats 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 blood-red light; because of this chilling pair of colors, few guests are brave enough to venture into the seventh room. The room is also the location of a large ebony clock that ominously clangs at each hour, upon which everyone stops talking and the orchestra stops playing. At the chiming of midnight, Prospero notices one figure in a dark, blood-spattered robe resembling a funeral shroud, with an extremely lifelike 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 none 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 falls dead. The enraged and terrified revelers surge into the black room and remove the mask, only to find that there is no face underneath it. Only then do they realize that the figure is 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."

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