What does Prince Prospero symbolize in "The Masque of the Red Death"?
Prince Prospero symbolizes mankind and its inability to deal with the realities of death. Prospero, like many men, thinks he can avoid death or at least put it off. When the Red Death begins to kill most of the people in Prospero's kingdom, he attempts to use his wealth and possessions to escape the fate of everyman. He calls in his best friends, walls up his castle, and provides food and entertainment that lasts about six months. However, as Poe points out in this allegory, no man can escape death---It will seek you out and find you. This is exactly what happens to Prospero. Just when he is thinking he has escaped the plague, it invades his castle, seeks out his guests and leads Prospero through the seven rooms. According to critic H. H. Bell, Jr., in his article '‘‘The Masque of the Red Death': An Interpretation, the seven rooms are each an ‘‘an allegorical representation of Prince Prospero's life span.’’ Thus, once Prospero, like all men, go through the various stages of their lives, there is only one conclusion--- death. This is exactly what happens to Prospero.
It could also be argued that Prince Prospero symbolizes hedonism and the human desire for pleasure. When the Red Death decimates his kingdom, Prospero's reaction is to gather together all of his friends in the abbey. As we see in the following quote, Prospero does not intend on ruminating about death or worrying at all about the plague:
The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine.
In other words, the Prince's priority is to have a good time and to not think about the realities of what is going on in his kingdom. All he cares about is entertaining his guests in the most splendid way possible.
At the end of the story, however, the Red Death catches up with Prospero and kills him. Through his death, Poe argues that pleasure is only a temporary distraction from the harsh realities of life. No matter how rich or how cultured, no man can escape death because death is an inevitability.
Prince Prospero can also symbolize the superiority that man sometimes thinks he/she has. Prince Prospero thought that by sequestering himself and his guests that he could somehow cheat death. Only the higher social class was invited to his "ball," which represents how Prospero viewed this class as being more important than any others "below" it. Prospero can also symbolize how out of touch the upper class was with the lower classes in society. Perhaps Prospero and his revelers felt they deserved to live and the lower social classes did not simply because they had money and power. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Death affects all.