How does this story relate to the Romantic period?"The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Romantics came to believe that the imagination was able to apprehend truths that the rational mind could not reach.  These truths were usually accompanied by powerful emotion.  To the Romantic sensibility the imagination, spontaneity, individual feelings, and wild nature were of greater value than reason, logic, planning, and cultivation. Thus, readers have come to perceive the Dark Romantic approach, which is Poe's, in the development of the Gothic genre, with its wild, haunted landscapes supernatural events, and mysterious castles.  With Poe especially, the Gothic took a turn toward the psychological exploration of the human mind. 

Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" with its castle-like abbey of ironed gates and lofty walls and mysterious rooms is certainly a Gothic setting.  As an allegory, the entire story can be viewed as symbolic, representing a truth about a condition of life:  man's fear of death, sickness, madness, and the end of the world and his inability to control his fate.

Indeed, the psychological aspect of Poe's tale is suggested in the very title.  The masque was a ball in which people disguised themselves so that they could more freely enjoy themselves.  In the story, the thousand "hale and light-hearted friends" masquerade themselves in an effort to fool the Red Death as they barricade themselves in Prince Prospero's castle.  The atmosphere in the castle is "an assembly of phantasms."  Of course, the most preternatural of all is the Red Death himself who appears "like a thief in the night" in the "blood-bedewed halls of their revel"--a desperate attempt by the guests to stave off their fates.  Time stops as the "life of the ebony clock" goes out, as do the flames of the tripods.  The dark region reigns over the prince's kingdom, the dark side of nature whose puissance the anti-Romantics such as Poe recognizes in his macabre tale.   

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