What are the instructions concerning the party in Edgar Allan Poe's story The Masque of the Red Death?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The question -- what are the instructions concerning the party in Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Masque of the Red Death -- is a little unclear. Poe's tale of a narcissistic medieval prince, Prospero, who walls himself, and his friends and followers, off from the effects of the plague ravaging the countryside, living gaily within while millions perish outside, provides no direct instructions regarding the ball that is held during the story's climatic period. It is suggested here, therefore, that what the questioner has in mind are those references to the castle's configuration and decoration attributed to the prince's instructions, and the influences of those instructions on the ball's demeanor. The ball, Poe's narrator notes, takes place at "the close of the fifth or sixth month" of Prince Prospero's seclusion within his castle. The castle's interior was designed by the prince and reflected his personality, and his vision for the great party he hosted for his friends. As the narrator notes,

"He [Prince Prospero] had directed, in great part, the movable embellishments of the seven chambers, upon occasion of this great fête; and it was his own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders."

The narrator proceeds, then, to describe each of these chambers, noting the variations in color for each, and the furnishings, or lack thereof, with which each chamber was adorned. In addition, Prince Prospero adds some rather unconventional flourishes that add to the setting's macabre flavor:

"There were arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There were much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams."

It is the unique characteristics of these seven chambers that appear to represent the "instructions" the prince issued regarding the ball. Prospero had already sealed the entrances and exits of the estate's outer perimeter to both keep plague-stricken peasants out and upper-class residents in. The only other instructions to which Poe's narrator alludes are those mentioned above regarding the party's physical setting.

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The Masque of the Red Death

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