How does Poe develop "The Masque of the Red Death" to build a feeling of terror?

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ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Poe uses the narrative events plus allusions to the Bible and Shakespeare to create a classic gothic tale of horror. The story begins with a "pestilence" of Biblical proportions raving some unknown land. Its leader, Prince Prospero, a name probably borrowed from Shakespeare's "The Tempest" decides he will invite his friends into his castle and party while other die outside his castle gates. The description of the Red Death is horrible enough. One bleeds from every pore in the body and suffers "hideous" pain. However, like the Duke Prospero, in "The Tempest", Prince Prospero isolates himself and his friends and expects to escape the "Red Death". Somehow the audience knows better. Poe then describes the decision to hold a masquerade ball. The rooms in which the ball was held are equally intriguing. Each one has a different color, especially the last room which is decorated in black and has a black clock which chimes every hour. This sets up anticipation of some horrid ending. When the Red Death appears, Poe uses Biblical language to reinforce fear in both the reader and the guests. He writes, the Red Death,"‘‘like a thief in the night.’ By the end of the story, the Biblical language becomes evident."And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. "The blood and the dew of the plague replace the blood of Christ and the dew of heaven" and "Darkness and Decay and the Red Death" rule.

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The Masque of the Red Death

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