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The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

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What details suggest madness in the story and its climax and how is the plot resolved?

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In Edgar Allan Poe's gothic tale, "The Masque of the Red Death," Prince Prospero's plan to stave off the plague by sequestering himself and his guests in an ancient abbey where they "girdled" in by a lofty wall that has iron gates certainly seems rather illogical.  For, it is as though the prince fortifies himself and his guests against a tangible enemy.  Even security guards are employed to prevent unwanted visitors. The discrepancies in the prince are indicated by the narrator who shows the contrast between Prospero's personality and the situation:

But the Prince Pospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious.  When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dame of his court....It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade.

Like the Roman saying, "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die," the court and its prince revel in the fete as they disguise themselves in luxurious and full gratification of their senses (voluptuous), disregarding completely the imminent danger.  That the festivities are engaged in an old, dark, and mysterious building in which the lighting creates bizarre impressions with the vivdly blue, purple, green, orange, and black rooms and decor seems mad, indeed.  Poe's narrator remarks on this decor:

But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel.  The tastes of the duke were peculiar.  He ahd a fine eye for colors and effect.  He disregarded the decora of mere fashion.  His plans were bod and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barabaric luster.  There are some who would have thought him mad.  His followers thought that he was not.  It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure that he was not.

However, despite their mad gaiety, Prince Prospero and his guests cannot bar the Red Death from becoming their unwanted guest, with a "vesture...dabbled in blood."  And, when the Red Death, whose face was "besprinkled with the scarltet horror," enters Prince Prospero watches him walk among the dancers, he was seen "to be convulsed...with a strong shudder...,but, in the next, his brow reddened with rage.  The prince asks, "Who dares?...Seize him and unmask him."  At these words the climax begins and some of the guests started forward, but suddenly stop as the intruder passes close to the prince.  Finally, the prince, "maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentarily cowardice, rushes forward with a drawn dagger in his hands.  In the height of the climax, Prince Prospero raises his dagger and approaches just as the monster suddenly confronts his assailant,

There was a sharp cry--and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the carpet of the black apartment, and instantly...fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero.

Only after Prospero falls is the presence of the Red Death acknowledged.

He had come like a thief in the night.  And one-by-one dropped the revelers in blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall.  And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay.

The revelers all succumb and die; the clock even goes out.  The Plague has eradicated all--this is the denouement.

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The climax is reached when the Red Death, represented as a masked figure dressed in burial clothing and appearing as if he has died from the illness, appears at the party. When the prince and partiers see the figure they are outraged and filled with uneasiness. Prospero, outraged, calls the figure out. However, everyone is extremely frightened by the figure. He eventually kills the Prince in the seventh, black room with the scarlet red illumination. When the partiers go to grab the figure, they realize no one is underneath the costume. They then all fall dead, victims of the Red Death.

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