Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Masque of the Red Death’’ was first published in 1842. In the original publication, the title was given the English spelling of "mask,’’ yet it was changed to "masque'' in 1845. In this macabre tale, a Prince Prospero seals himself and a thousand of his friends into the abbey of a castle in order to protect them from a deadly pestilence—The Red Death—that is ravaging the country. But when the group indulge in a lavish costume ball in order to distract themselves from the suffering and death outside their walls, the Red Death, disguised as a costumed guest, enters and claims the lives of everyone present. The story is narrated in a manner which gives it the quality of a myth, allegory or fairy tale, exploring themes of man's fear of death, sin, madness, and the end of the world.
This tale is a prime example of Poe's Gothic horror fiction. Poe evokes a dark and eerie mood in a story that focuses on images of blood and death, while the personification of the Red Death lends an element of the supernatural. "The Masque of the Red Death’’ embodies Poe's mastery of the short story; in addition, it illustrates his literary philosophy. According to Poe, a short story should be tightly focused so that every word, from beginning to end, contributes to the overall effect. In ‘‘The Masque of the Red Death,’’ powerful imagery and an illusive narrative voice are tightly woven into a macabre tale of horror with insight into the human condition.