illustration of Fortunato standing in motley behind a mostly completed brick wall with a skull superimposed on the wall where his face should be

The Cask of Amontillado

by Edgar Allan Poe
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What historical references are found in "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe?

Carnival - annual festival held in Venice, Italy Catacombs – underground cemeteries with narrow winding tunnels dug out to hold the bodies. Used for imprisonment of Fortunato. Montresor was a mason, Fortunato was not. Masonic rituals and hand signs.

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The Cask of Amontillado” was Edgar Allan Poe’s last short story.  The setting of the story is Italy in the eighteenth Century.  The narrator is the pre-meditated, homicidal maniac Montresor.  His victim is the presumptuous connoisseur, Fortunato.

Historical aspects of the story-

Carnival of Venice

The story takes place during the carnival season.  This was an annual festival held in Venice, Italy. The Carnival ends with Lent, forty days before Easter on Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday. 

The primary setting for the story begins at the carnival scene. The carnival involves parades, entertainment, music, and parties.  Particularly important are the masquerade balls in which the participants must dress in costume to be able to be a part of the celebration.  Mischief and pranks were a part of the carnival; the primary rule was anything goes at the Carnival.

Montresor planned his murder for this specific time.  His reasoning was clever.  He knew his servants would slip away from his house and then it would be empty.  Fortunato would be dressed in costume, so no one would recognize or witness him leaving the carnival with Montresor.  In addition, the chaos of the carnival would again discourage anyone noticing that the two men were leaving the party.

The Catacombs

The second of the store occurs in the catacombs underneath the house of Montresor. The catacombs provide this imprisonment part.

The catacombs were first begun in about the second century AD.  It was at this time that the first large scale catacombs were excavated. Originally, they were made outside the cities. The catacombs were underground cemeteries with narrow winding tunnels normally about eight feet high with the sides dug out to hold the bodies.  

Poe made the catacombs in the story under the house of Montresor. According to history the catacombs were dug in various places throughout the cities.  For example, in Rome, there were probably sixty catacombs to serve all of the citizenry of the city.

Free Masons

Fortunato continues to insult Montresor as he walks to his catacomb grave.  He asks Montresor if he were a mason and if he could give the secret sign.

He [Fortunato] threw the bottle upwards with a gesticulation I did not understand. 

‘You do not comprehend?’ He said.

‘Not I,' I replied.

‘Then you are not of the brotherhood.’


‘You are not of the masons.’

‘Yes, yes,’ I said.

‘You? Impossible! A mason?’

Another insult to Montresor.  Apparently, Fortunato would never learn.

The Freemasons are a secret group still a part of society today.  The admission to the group was by invitation from a present member.  The initial modern group may have been founded in 1515 in London. 

Very few documents have been released so that historians could study the background of the society.  The original members were workers in freestone, sandstone, or limestone.  The major employer of the masons was the royalty. 

The “Guild” or “fellowships” had a basis in the Old Testament. The intention was to teach the members moral and social virtues.  Throughout its history, the lodges have been entirely male.   The members were sworn to secrecy in an effort to make the body more selective. 

The meetings and group correctly meet as a lodge. The members later were not just brick workers, but whomever the group felt was worthy of being a member.  The rituals of the group included secret handshakes, gestures, and aphorisms that had to be memorized.

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