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Appraisal of “The Masque of the Red Death”

“No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous.” So begins a short-tale from Edgar A. Poe. The tale speaks of a plague which leaves “scarlet stains upon the body and especially on the face of the victim.” While the tale’s unsavory protagonist, Prince Prospero, resolves to fortify himself and his chosen court within the confines of an opulent castle, the castle serves only to become a prison.

As a means of appeasing himself and his guests, Prince Prospero devices an extravagant masquerade ball, with rooms of many colors. The final room, a black room, holds an ebony clock whose chime instills fear in the cold hearts of the Prince’s captive sycophants. It is within this room that Prospero meets his fate at the hands of a masked stranger.

Such a strange tale from the likes of Mr. Poe, especially given his recent antics. Is Mr. Poe insinuating that no man is beyond sin? Is he mourning the death of his beloved Virginia? Is “the mask” with its ghastly, red tinge a reference to The White Plague and its romantic consumption ?

I would submit that Mr. Poe’s tale serves as a warning to the populace at large that Death will capture us all, even within the most impenetrable fortress. None shall prevail over the forces of life and death. Like the ominous clock that chimes and chills the bones of the castle’s impervious denizen, time is the master of us all.

These are such strange musings from a man who has been seen about town, on the lash, with bottle in hand. What has become of the once honor bright Poe? Has he forsaken his God-given gift of prose and verse in favor of the Drink’s lure? It seems most certain that Mr. Poe has not embraced the virtue of temperance. Yet, how soon will his “mask” come for him?

By E.O. Cuthbert

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