The Masque of the Red Death

Poe, Edgar Allan

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice
  • Date of entry: Oct-08-1998


During the course of a plague, Prince Prospero calls together his friends to come to his castle for fun and frolic until the danger of pestilence has passed. A masquerade is planned, and in typical "Poesque" fashion the great halls are described in imagery that foreshadows a horror to follow. The night of the ball comes, the guests arrive in their costumes and the festivities begin.

The gaiety is interrupted by the arrival of a guest, dressed in the garments of the grave besprinkled with the scarlet blood associated with the plague of "red death." The intruder stalks the halls until confronted by the host in (of course) the black hall. Without explanation, the host falls dead at the masquer's feet and the revelers, setting upon the intruder, find that the costume is "untenanted by any tangible form." Whereupon, the guests began to die in their tracks as they acknowledge the presence of the Red Death.


This is quite typical of many of the tales by Poe, in which there is a bit of truth and morality tied to a horror story of fantastic dimensions. The focus on the frequency with which the wealthy chose to flee from plagues is reminiscent of such works as Boccaccio's Decameron, and journals from the years of the bubonic plague in Europe. Poe dresses it up in powerfully overt images of sensual texture and color, with symbols such as an ebony clock striking midnight and windows that turn admitted light to a blood hue. Subtle this piece is not; fun to read and discuss in terms of human behavior it is.


First published: 1838

Primary Source

Tales of Edgar Allan Poe


Random House

Place Published

New York