the masque of the red death - DOC by 00ZQg73


									The Masque of the Red Death

Make the Connection
Rich and powerful people often build huge houses. They build high walls around their
estates so that they can block out the upsetting parts of life. What realities of life must
people face, no matter who they are? Write down your thoughts.

Literary Focus
Allegory: A Story Behind a Story
An allegory is a narrative that is really a double story. One story takes place on the
surface. Under the surface the story’s characters and events represent abstract ideas or
states of being, things like love or freedom, evil or goodness, hell or heaven.
To work, an allegory must operate on two levels. On the level of pure storytelling, an
allegory must hold our attention. Its characters must seem believable and interesting
enough for us to care about them. On the allegorical level the ideas in the story must
be accessible to us. As you read, you should find that the allegorical level of the story
gradually begins to strike you.
See if you find that Poe’s story of arrogance and death hooks you on both levels.

Reading Skills
Monitoring Your Reading: Asking Questions
As you read this story, you’ll find questions at the open-book signs. The questions are
designed to make you stop briefly and think about the text. They ask you to sum up
what you have read. They ask you about the meanings of words. They remind you to
visualize the action. These are issues that active readers think about all the time.

Poe’s fictional Red Death is probably based on the Black Death, which swept
fourteenth-century Europe and Asia, killing as many as two thirds of the population in
some regions in less than twenty years. (See the Connection on page 429.) Poe calls
the plague “the Red Death” because victims oozed blood from painful sores. In this
story a fourteenth-century prince gives a costume party, or masque, to try to forget
about the epidemic raging all around him.
The Masque of the Red Death
Edgar Allan Poe

The “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal,
or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar1 and its seal—the redness and the horror of blood.
There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores,
with dissolution.2 The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the
victim were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his
fellow men. And the whole seizure, progress, and termination of the disease were the
incidents of half an hour.

But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless3 and sagacious. When his dominions
were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and lighthearted
friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the
deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys.4 This was an extensive and magnificent
structure, the creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet august5 taste. A strong and
lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered,
brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave
means neither of ingress or egress6 to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from
within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid
defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it
was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure.
There were buffoons, there were improvisatori,7 there were ballet dancers, there were
musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within.
Without was the “Red Death.”

It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the
pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince Prospero entertained his
thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.

It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me tell of the rooms in which
it was held. There were seven—an imperial suite. In many palaces, however, such
suites form a long and straight vista, while the folding doors slide back nearly to the
walls on either hand, so that the view of the whole extent is scarcely impeded. Here the
case was very different; as might have been expected from the duke’s love of the
bizarre. 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. To the right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and
narrow Gothic window looked out upon a closed corridor which pursued the windings of
the suite. These windows were of stained glass whose color varied in accordance with
the prevailing hue of the decorations of the chamber into which it opened. That at the
eastern extremity was hung, for example, in blue—and vividly blue were its windows.
The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes
were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth
was furnished and lighted with orange—the fifth with white—the sixth with violet. The
seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over
the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material
and hue. 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. Now in no one of the
seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion of golden
ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or depended from the roof. There was no light
of any kind emanating from lamp or candle within the suite of chambers. But in the
corridors that followed the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod,
bearing a brazier of fire that projected its rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly
illumined the room. And thus were produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic
appearances. But in the western or black chamber the effect of the firelight that
streamed 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 entered that
there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all.

It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall a gigantic clock
of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and
when the minute hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken,
there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and
deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each
lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause,
momentarily, in their performance, to hearken to the sound; and thus the waltzers
perforce ceased their evolutions;8 and there was a brief disconcert9 of the whole gay
company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest
grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in
confused reverie or meditation. 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 and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the
next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after
the lapse of sixty minutes (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of
the Time that flies), there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the
same disconcert and tremulousness10 and meditation as before.

But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel. The tastes of the duke
were peculiar. He had a fine eye for colors and effects. He disregarded the decora11 of
mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric
lustre. There are some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was
not. It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure that he was not.
He had directed, in great part, the moveable embellishments of the seven chambers,
upon occasion of this great fête;12 and it was his own guiding taste which had given
character to the masqueraders. Be sure they were grotesque. There were much glare
and glitter and piquancy13 and phantasm14—much of what has been since seen in
Hernani.15 There were arabesque16 figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There
were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There was much of the beautiful,
much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of
that which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked,
in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these—the dreams—writhed in and about, taking
hue17 from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo
of their steps. And, anon,18 there strikes the ebony clock which stands in the hall of the
velvet. And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock.
The 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. And now again the music swells, and the dreams live, and writhe to and
fro more merrily than ever, taking hue from the many-tinted windows through which
stream the rays from the tripods. But to the chamber which lies most westwardly of the
seven, there are now none of the maskers who venture; for the night is waning away;
and there flows a ruddier light through the blood-colored panes; and the blackness of
the sable drapery appalls;19 and to him whose foot falls upon the sable carpet, there
comes from the near clock of ebony a muffled peal more solemnly emphatic than any
which reaches their ears who indulge in the more remote gaieties of the other

But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat feverishly the
heart of life. And the revel went whirlingly on, until at length there commenced the
sounding of midnight upon the clock. And then the music ceased, as I have told; and
the evolutions of the waltzers were quieted; and there was an uneasy cessation of all
things as before. But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the
clock; and thus it happened, perhaps, that more of thought crept, with more of time,
into the meditations of the thoughtful among those who revelled. And thus, too, it
happened, perhaps, that before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into
silence, there were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become
aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single
individual before. And the rumor of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly
around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive
of disapprobation20 and surprise—then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of

In an assembly of phantasms such as I have painted, it may well be supposed that no
ordinary appearance could have excited such sensation. In truth the masquerade
license21 of the night was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded
Herod,22 and gone beyond the bounds of even the prince’s indefinite decorum. There
are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion.
Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters
of which no jest can be made. The whole company, indeed, seemed now deeply to feel
that in the costume and bearing of the stranger neither wit nor propriety existed. The
figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments23 of the
grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the
countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in
detecting the cheat. And yet all this might have been endured, if not approved, by the
mad revelers around. But the mummer24 had gone so far as to assume the type of the
Red Death. His vesture25 was dabbled in blood—and his broad brow, with all the
features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.

When the eyes of Prince Prospero fell upon this spectral26 image (which with a slow and
solemn movement, as if more fully to sustain its role, stalked to and fro among the
waltzers), he was seen to be convulsed, in the first moment with a strong shudder
either of terror or distaste; but, in the next, his brow reddened with rage.

“Who dares?” he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near him—“who dares
insult us with this blasphemous27 mockery? Seize him and unmask him—that we may
know whom we have to hang at sunrise, from the battlements!”
It was in the eastern or blue chamber in which stood the Prince Prospero as he uttered
these words. They rang throughout the seven rooms loudly and clearly—for the prince
was a bold and robust man, and the music had become hushed at the waving of his

It was in the blue room where stood the prince, with a group of pale courtiers by his
side. At first, as he spoke, there was a slight rushing movement of this group in the
direction of the intruder, who at the moment was also near at hand, and now, with
deliberate and stately step, made closer approach to the speaker. But from a certain
nameless awe with which the mad assumptions of the mummer had inspired the whole
party, there were found none who put forth hand to seize him; so that, unimpeded, he
passed within a yard of the prince’s person; and, while the vast assembly, as if with
one impulse, shrank from the centers of the rooms to the walls, he made his way
uninterruptedly, but with the same solemn and measured step which had distinguished
him from the first, through the blue chamber to the purple—through the purple to the
green—through the green to the orange—through this again to the white—and even
thence to the violet, ere a decided movement had been made to arrest him. It was
then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his
own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none
followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. He bore aloft a
drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity,28 to within three or four feet
of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet
apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his pursuer. There was a sharp cry—and
the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which, instantly afterwards,
fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero. Then, summoning the wild courage of
despair, a throng of the revelers at once threw themselves into the black apartment,
and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the
shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave
cerements29 and corpselike mask which they handled with so violent a rudeness,
untenanted by any tangible form.

And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in
the night. And one by one dropped the revelers in the blood-bedewed halls of their
revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock
went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And
Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion30 over all.

 What is the Red Death?

 How do the prince and his friends try to escape the Red Death?

 Describe the seven rooms as you visualize them.

 What strange effect does the ebony clock have on the partygoers?

 What details suggest that the party is, as Poe says, grotesque and bizarre? Why don’t the
 revelers go into the seventh room?

 How does the masked figure affect the revelers?

 How is the masked guest costumed? Who do you predict this is?

 What happens when the guest is unmasked?

 Who was the guest? What happens to the revelers?
The Black Death
from When Plague Strikes
James Cross Giblin

The bubonic plague—the Black Death—arrived in Sicily in October 1347, carried by the
crew of a fleet from the east. All the sailors on the ships were dead or dying. In the
words of a contemporary historian, they had “sickness clinging to their very bones.”

The harbor masters at the port of Messina ordered the sick sailors to remain on board,
hoping in this way to prevent the disease from spreading to the town. They had no way
of knowing that the actual carriers of the disease had already left the ships. Under
cover of night, when no one could see them, they had scurried down the ropes that tied
the ships to the dock and vanished into Messina.

The carriers were black rats and the fleas that lived in their hair. Driven by an unending
search for food, the rats’ ancestors had migrated slowly westward along the caravan
routes. They had traveled in bolts of cloth and bales of hay, and the fleas had come
with them.

Although it was only an eighth of an inch long, the rat flea was a tough, adaptable
creature. It depended for nourishment on the blood of its host, which it obtained
through a daggerlike snout that could pierce the rat’s skin. And in its stomach the flea
often carried thousands of the deadly bacteria that caused the bubonic plague.

The bacteria did no apparent harm to the flea, and a black rat could tolerate a
moderate amount of them, too, without showing ill effects. But sometimes the flea
contained so many bacteria that they invaded the rat’s lungs or nervous system when
the flea injected its snout. Then the rat died a swift and horrible death, and the flea had
to find a new host.

Aiding the tiny flea in its search were its powerful legs, which could jump more than
150 times the creature’s length. In most instances the flea landed on another black rat.
Not always, though. If most of the rats in the vicinity were already dead or dying from
the plague, the flea might leap to a human being instead. As soon as it had settled on
the human’s skin, the flea would begin to feed, and the whole process of infection
would be repeated….

From Sicily, trading ships loaded with infected flea-bearing rats carried the Black Death
to ports on the mainland of Italy. Peddlers and other travelers helped spread it to inland
cities such as Milan and Florence.
Conditions in these medieval cities provided a splendid breeding ground for all types of
vermin, including rats. There were no regular garbage collections, and refuse
accumulated in piles in the streets. Rushes from wet or marshy places, not rugs,
covered the floors in most homes. After a meal, it was customary to throw bits of
leftover food onto the rushes for the dog or cat to eat. Rats and mice often got their
share, too.

Because the cities had no running water, even the wealthy seldom washed their heavy
clothing, or their own bodies. As a result, both rich and poor were prime targets for lice
and fleas and the diseases they carried—the most deadly being the bubonic plague….

The most complete account of the Black Death in Italy was given by the writer Giovanni
Boccaccio, who lived in the city of Florence. In the preface to his classic book the
Decameron, Boccaccio wrote: “Some say that the plague descended upon the human
race through the influence of the heavenly bodies, others that it was a punishment
signifying God’s righteous anger at our wicked way of life.”…

How did the people of Florence react to this mysterious and fatal disease? Some
isolated themselves in their homes, according to Boccaccio. They ate lightly, saw no
outsiders, and refused to receive reports of the dead or sick. Others adopted an
attitude of “play today for we die tomorrow.” They drank heavily, stayed out late, and
roamed through the streets singing and dancing as if the Black Death were an
enormous joke. Still others, if they were rich enough, abandoned their homes in the
city and fled to villas in the countryside. They hoped in this way to escape the disease—
but often it followed them.

Whatever steps they took, the same percentage of people in each group seemed to fall
ill. So many died that the bodies piled up in the streets. A new occupation came into
being: that of loading the bodies on carts and carrying them away for burial in mass
graves. “No more respect was accorded to dead people,” Boccaccio wrote, “than would
be shown toward dead goats.”

The town of Siena, thirty miles south of Florence, suffered severe losses also. A man
named Agnolo di Tura offered a vivid account of what happened there:

“The mortality in Siena began in May. It was a horrible thing, and I do not know where
to begin to tell of the cruelty…. Members of a household brought their dead to a ditch
as best they could, without a priest, without any divine services. Nor did the death bell
sound…. And as soon as those ditches were filled, more were dug. I, Agnolo di Tura,
buried my five children with my own hands…. And no bells tolled,and nobody wept no
matter what his loss because almost everyone expected death…. And people said and
believed, ‘This is the end of the world.’”
The Masque of the Red Death
Reading Check
1.   How do Prince Prospero and his friends try to escape from the Red Death?
2.   What kind of life do the prince and his guests lead in their world apart?
3.   Describe the seven rooms of the prince’s suite.
4.   Why do the guests avoid the seventh room?
5.   How do the guests respond to the chiming of the ebony clock?
6.   How does the masked ball end?
Thinking Critically
7. In the long paragraph that describes the masquerade on pages 423–424, what
   details suggest madness?
8. What is the climax of this horror story—that moment of greatest suspense and
   emotion, when you know how the problem in the story is going to be resolved?
9. Most readers agree that this story can be interpreted as an allegory. What might
   each of the following characters, events, or colors, represent?
• Prince Prospero (consider even the significance of his name)
• the masked ball
• the colors of the seven rooms
• the seventh room itself
• the ebony clock
• the masked figure
10. In a sentence or two, summarize what you think is the story’s
    allegorical meaning—the symbolic meaning behind the surface narrative. What
    does that additional level of meaning add to your appreciation of the story?
11. What unanswered questions do you have about this story?
12. Review the Connection on page 429. What parallels are there between the way
    Poe’s characters react to the Red Death and the way people reacted to the Black
    Death in Europe?
Extending and Evaluating
     13. According to Poe, every literary element in a story should be directed to achieve
         “a certain single effect.” Decide what you think Poe’s intended effect is in this
         story. Then, evaluate how well he achieves his goal. Support your evaluation
         with details from the story.
The Great Escape
Write a story of your own about a group of people who retreat to an isolated place in
order to escape some danger. Before you write, decide what emotional effect you want
to create in your story: horror? humor? irony? You might even consider writing your
story so that it parodies Poe’s story, or imitates it in a comical way. Refer to your
Quickwrite notes for ideas.

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