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What is the Red Death in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death"?

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betty-lokks | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 13, 2012 at 2:29 AM via web

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What is the Red Death in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death"?

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Kristen Lentz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 13, 2012 at 12:18 PM (Answer #1)

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The Red Death is a plague, sweeping the Italian country side with horrible effects.  In the introduction of Poe's short story, he describes the red death as having terrible symptoms including "sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution" (Poe).  The Red Death is a fictional representation of the Black Death plague that swept through the Middle Ages. 

As seen in "The Masque of the Red Death," many people in the middle ages attempted to escape the Black Death by outrunning it or secluding themselves away from it.  Even the pope was said to have sat for weeks between two burning fires to protect himself!  Prince Prospero locks himself and one thousand of his favorite subjects into an abbey.   

True to real life and much like the Black Death, the Red Death cannot be shut out.  When Prospero decides to liven things up by hosting a fancy costume ball, an unlooked for guest attends, one whose costume is "dabbled in blood -- and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror" (Poe).  

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Kristen Lentz

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