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Edgar Allan Poe's short story “The Masque of the Red Death” tells the weird story of a contagion that inexplicably finds its way into a supposedly impenetrable fortress. The action of the story occurs during a party, a “masque,” in which the participants are elaborately costumed.
During the party, a figure suddenly appears dressed as a corpse consumed with the “red death,” the disease that has led to the self-imposed imprisonment of Prince Prospero and the other revellers. Prospero is infuriated that someone has decided to dress in such bad taste, imitating the killer of so many:
“Who dares,”--he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near him--”who dares insult us with the blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him—that we may know whom we have to hang, at sunrise, from the battlements!”
Prospero's reaction leads him to pursue the figure and attempt to kill him, only to be killed himself. When the figure is disrobed, there is nothing there—he is actually the disease itself, the Red Death, and all of the partiers soon meet their own deaths.
Prospero's angry reaction shows us how much he feared the disease he was trying so hard to avoid. The idea that someone would mock the disease, and the death it brings about, leads him right into the arms of what he wanted to escape.
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