In "The Masque of the Red Death," what are the gothic elements present?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Elements of Gothic literature that are present in "The Masque of the Red Death" are the setting, the atmosphere of mystery and suspense and the presence of high emotion.

The setting for Poe's tale is a magnificent structure, a "castellated abbey" that has a wall with gates of iron. Prince Prospero has these gates welded shut in order to keep out the "Red Death," a plague that has struck throughout the land.

There is an atmosphere of mystery and suspense and high emotion present in Prince Prospero's castle when he entertains "his thousand friends at a masked ball" in seven rooms of seven different colors that are draped in velvet and have decorative furnishings. These rooms each have a Gothic window whose stained glass matches the color of the room's furnishings.

At each hour the clock makes a musical sound that is so "peculiar" that the musicians must stop momentarily in their performance. As a consequence, the dancers stop and there is an uneasiness in their faces. 

The giddiest grew pale and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation.

With the tolling of each hour, this terrified behavior occurs until the striking of the last hour. At this hour, a masked stranger appears, shrouded from head to foot, resembling a corpse; the guests are alarmed at the sight of this intruder who, then, makes his way through the rooms. Prince Prospero, "maddening with rage and the shame of his own cowardice," rushes through the chambers. When he reaches the last room while holding a dagger aloft, he attempts to kill the hideous figure. Suddenly, there is a sharp cry and Prince Prospero falls dead. These terrifying events help build an atmosphere of mystery and high emotion.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When we think of Gothic literature one of the first things that comes to mind is setting. Eerie towers at night, spooky graveyards, haunted houses, deserted mansions and so on. Then we have to inject an element of the supernatural - strange sounds, unexplainable happenings, supposed ghosts. If you look at novels that are considered "Gothic" such as Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, these are all key ingredients.

So, when we think about "The Masque of the Red Death," we need to investigate if we can detect Gothic elements in the setting and if there are elements of the supernatural. Certainly, the setting seems to be particularly bizarre, and it is worth thinking about how it operates symbolically. However, the last, black room, seems particularly Gothic in its presentation:

The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But in this chamber only, the colour of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet - a deep blood colour.

Add this to the light from the brazier that produces an effect "ghastly in the extreme," and you have a clear Gothic setting here. Note too the element of the supernatural, with the uninvited guest, whose costume makes him resemble a "stiffened corpse" and who disappears when challenged. An obvious example of Gothic supernatural.

So, in this story you can analyse the setting and also the element of the supernatural that is introduced through the uninvited guest to find examples of how this story is considered Gothic.

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Masque of the Red Death" is notable for its heavy use of Gothic elements. First of all, Gothic stories are often set in a castle or equally dark and remote location and this is clearly evident in the setting of this story. Prince Prospero lives in a "castellated abbey," for example, which is protected by a strong wall and iron gates. Moreover, its interior is also characteristically Gothic; the abbey contains seven apartments, each being richly decorated and connected by windy corridors and passages.

The Red Death itself is another Gothic element since Gothic stories are often characterized by "horrifying or terrifying events." In this case, the threat of contracting the Red Death, a plague which has devastated the country, is the first terrifying event of the story. Toward the end, however, the arrival of the mysterious guest suggests that another terrifying event will take place and indeed it does: while pursuing the stranger, the Prince falls on his own dagger and is instantly killed.

The mystery of this stranger and this extreme act of violence, therefore, bring this story to a very Gothic end.

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The Masque of the Red Death

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