The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe




A prosperous prince isolates himself in his castle along with 1,000 revellers, while a plague devastates the country-side. 


This is the essence of this very short story by Poe.


When, today, we have the King of Thailand ordering arrests for people who go outside, while he holds up in a harem with 20 women, this story seems more real than fantasy.


Yet, I will be arguing there is a much deeper psychological story being told right under our eyes. It is one of fear and terror of course. Unfortunately, it will hit much closer to home than Thailand.


Enjoy this discussion and reading of a masterpiece by Edgar Allan Poe.


On the show I make several literary references. Below you will be able to read not only the full short story by Poe, but also passages from Shakespeare's "As You Like it,' and "The Tempest," as well as a poem by poe.


First, a poem by Poe that I use as an argument for how I am interpreting the short story.


 

The Haunted Palace BY EDGAR ALLAN POE

In the greenest of our valleys By good angels tenanted, Once a fair and stately palace— Radiant palace—reared its head. In the monarch Thought’s dominion, It stood there! Never seraph spread a pinion Over fabric half so fair! Banners yellow, glorious, golden, On its roof did float and flow (This—all this—was in the olden Time long ago) And every gentle air that dallied, In that sweet day, Along the ramparts plumed and pallid, A wingèd odor went away. Wanderers in that happy valley, Through two luminous windows, saw Spirits moving musically To a lute’s well-tunèd law, Round about a throne where, sitting, Porphyrogene! In state his glory well befitting, The ruler of the realm was seen. And all with pearl and ruby glowing Was the fair palace door, Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing And sparkling evermore, A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty Was but to sing, In voices of surpassing beauty, The wit and wisdom of their king. But evil things, in robes of sorrow, Assailed the monarch’s high estate; (Ah, let us mourn!—for never morrow Shall dawn upon him, desolate!) And round about his home the glory That blushed and bloomed Is but a dim-remembered story Of the old time entombed. And travellers, now, within that valley, Through the red-litten windows see Vast forms that move fantastically To a discordant melody; While, like a ghastly rapid river, Through the pale door A hideous throng rush out forever, And laugh—but smile no more.



 

Next is a section of a speech in "As you Like it." The speech is called "All the world's a Stage," wherein is elucidated the seven ages of men. These ages correspond with the seven rooms in Prince Prospero's Palace.


Speech: “All the world’s a stage” BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms; And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice, In fair round belly with good capon lin’d, With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, Full of wise saws and modern instances; And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon, With spectacles on nose and pouch on side; His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice, Turning again toward childish treble, pipes And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion; Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.



 

Next up, is a short speech by Prospero from Shakespeare's "The Tempest."


Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits, and Are melted into air, into thin air: And like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on; and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.



 

Lastly is the full short story by Poe.


The "Red Death" had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar 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. 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 dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince's own eccentric yet august 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 nor egress 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, 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 towards 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. These 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 colour 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 colour of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet—a deep blood colour. 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 fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme,