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Poe, Edgar Allen."The Masque of the Red Death".


The "Red Death", meaning the plague, strikes the country. Prince Prospero gathers a thousand of his friends from the court and they isolate themselves in an abbey supplied by food. The Prince entertains the society by dance, music, and wine.

The Abbey is designed by the Prince himself, an eccentric man with extraordinary taste. Each room has its prevailing colour which is in accordance with the colour of the window plates. Only the black room does not have windows in the same colour. There are no lamps, the only source of light are fires on tripods which create bizarre shadows on the draperies. Especially in the black room which hardly anyone dares enter. The black room contains a gigantic ebony clock. It chimes each hour with such a special sound that it makes all joy cease for the time of chiming. The otherwise merry society becomes silent as if under a spell. Also the music stops, the musicians are unable to play.

The Prince gives a masque ball. Many bizarre masks are present, some of them may be even disgusting for some people, but the Prince does not care for conventional tastes. When the clock chimes midnight, there is a rumour of a new masque appearing. It is an extremely faithful mask of "Red Death". The Prince orders to catch the masque which provokes fear and disgust. Yet nobody dares approach it. The masque walks with solemn and measured step to the black apartment. The Prince runs to catch it, angry with the intruder. In the black room the masque suddenly turns to the Prince who drops dead. The crowd gains wild courage and summons in the apartment. The masque is however ethereal, it cannot be grasped in any way.

Like a thief the Red Death comes in the night. The people are dying as lonely as those from whom they isolated themselves. The course of the disease marks a person's body in such a way that the person does not receive any sympathy. The fire of the tripods expired "and Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all."


- a short story with Gothic features

- theme: the impossibility of escape from death

- preoccupied with disease, death, and hysteria

- includes graphic descriptions of the plague stricken

- similar in theme and treatment to Poe's story "Shadow": both stories employ the motif of ebony (it is an ebony clock in this story and an ebony mirror in "Shadow"), the concept of morbid celebration despite impending death, and intrusion of death in disguise (the shadow, the immaterial masque)


  • Author

    Poe, Edgar Allen. (1809 - 1849).
  • Full Title

    "The Masque of the Red Death".
  • First Published

  • Form

    Short story.

Works Cited

Poe, Edgar Allen."The Masque of the Red Death". (1842). In: The Chief American Prose Writers: Selected Prose. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1916.


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