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Prince Prospero, protagonist of "The Masque of the Red Death," attempts to escape a plague decimating his land by retreating to a walled abbey. Immediately, this action sets up a conflict, because it is the duty of the prince and the nobles to try to alleviate suffering, not just to protect themselves. It echoes the conflicts between safety and duty during the Black Plague, as chronicled, for example, in Defoe's Journal of the Plague years. The name Prospero also invokes the similar retreat and isolation of the powerful Prospero of Shakespeare's "Tempest." The Prince holds a masquerade ball in the abbey. Suspense builds as a mysterious figure costumed as the Red Death circulates around the masquerade. At the climax, the Prince confronts the Red Death, which is unmasked not as a person, but as the inescapable disease itself. As in many stories by Poe, horror is created through a sense of inevitabilty, i.e. that no matter how much characters struggle to escape fate, their fate closes in on them.
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