What does the prince order his courtiers to do in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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When Death enters, Prince Prospero orders his courtiers to seize him and unmask him.

When a plague takes a toll on his kingdom, Prince Prospero responds not by helping people but by having all of his courtiers come take refuge inside the palace. 

Prince Prospero is only a good leader to the wealthy.  His kingdom suffers from a terrible pestilence, but he brings all of his friends to the palace and they lock themselves in, deciding that the external world “could take care of itself” (p. 4).  He has no sympathy for the people who are dying outside his gates.

When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. (p. 4)

Things are going well for months when Prospero decides to have a grand masquerade.  Everyone dresses up and they party more than usual.  Unfortunately, a death-masked figure interrupts the festivities.

“Who dares?” he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near him—“who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him—that we may know whom we have to hang at sunrise, from the battlements!”(p. 6)

As it turns out, there is no point in unmasking Death.  Prospero and all of his friends are doomed.  They have not been able to keep death out—Death has come to them.

Prospero’s reaction to Death is an example of his arrogance and simplicity.  He assumes he is never in danger, and does not even have the good sense to be afraid.  At the same time, he orders others to take the intruder.  He does nothing himself.  In the end, he gets what he deserves.

 

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