The imagery of “The Masque of the Red Death”—which was initially published as “The Mask of the Red Death” in Graham’s Magazine, probably because the periodical’s editor thought the word “masque” was too exotic—has been echoed many times since, in all manner of literary and cinematic works. It is perhaps most familiar to twenty-first century readers from film adaptations of Gaston Leroux’s novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra (serial 1909-1910, book 1910; The Phantom of the Opera, 1911) and stage and film versions of the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber also based on that novel. Contemporary audiences may also know Roger Corman’s relatively lavish film version—which also takes in the Edgar Allan Poe story “Hop-Frog: Or, The Eight Chained Ourangoutangs” (1849), the climax of which is similarly set at a decadent masquerade.
Within the story itself, the costumes adopted in the masked ball are likened to those featured in Victor Hugo’s verse drama Hernani (pr., pb. 1830; English translation, 1830), whose sensational premiere at the Comédie-Française in February, 1830, was elevated to legendary status by Théophile Gautier’s Histoire du romantisme (1872; history of Romanticism). Gautier lavishly described and celebrated a pitched battle allegedly fought at the premiere between the playwright’s supporters and outraged defenders of Classicist tradition. The imagery of this description...
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