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 are some allusions in "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe?

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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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Early in the text, Montresor explains that the events he relates occur during "the supreme madness of the Carnival season." The Carnival season takes place just prior to the Lenten season, and it is celebrated by Catholics all over Europe but most especially in Italy. Technically, it is the period of time between January at the end of Epiphany (the twelfth and last day of Christmas) and the day before Ash Wednesday (when Lent begins), also known as Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras). The last week of this period, however, is the most raucous. There are public celebrations, and people dress in costumes for big parties and parades. This is why, in the story, Fortunato is dressed as a jester, and it is also why Montresor can put on a mask and long cloak without drawing attention to himself. He would just appear to be in costume as so many other people are, and masks are very common and popular during Carnival.

Poe's choice of Amontillado as the wine with which Montresor tempts Fortunato also works as an allusion because it requires some prior knowledge if one is to understand fully the conversation between the two men before they descend into the vaults. Montresor tells his nemesis that he's purchased a very large quantity of Amontillado, and he knows that the prospect of being the one to tell him that Montresor has been taken advantage of will be too tempting for Fortunato to pass up. Amontillado is a Spanish sherry wine which is somewhat rare and costly because of its complex aging process. Apparently, Montresor chooses to lie about purchasing this wine because Fortunato would know that he paid a hefty sum for the pipe, believing it to be Amontillado, and this would heighten Fortunato's sense of superiority that much more. Knowing how proud the man is, Montresor knows that Fortunato will never pass up the opportunity to: tell Montresor he was wrong and purchased a lesser quality wine erroneously; to gloat over the fact that Montresor would have overpaid so much, believing he was purchasing the rarer sherry; and lord his own superior wine knowledge over Montresor, attempting to shame Montresor with his costly mistake.

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An allusion is a literary figure of speech that makes a brief "reference to, or representation of, a place, event, literary work, myth, or work of art, either directly or by implication." The term is often mistaken for what is otherwise a "simple reference." There are several examples of allusions in "TCOA."

  • "He prided himself on his connoisseur-ship in wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit. For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity, to practise imposture upon the British and Austrian millionaires." -- The mention of the "British and Austrian millionaires" is an allusion to the subjects whom the Italian wine experts aim their verbal expertise.
  • "It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend." -- This alludes to the annual carnival (presumably in an unidentified Italian town), which occurs throughout many parts of the world.
  • “ 'I forget your arms.' ”
    “ 'A huge human foot d'or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel.' ”
    “ 'And the motto?' ” '
    " 'Nemo me impune lacessit.' " -- Poe alludes here to both the Montressor coat-of-arms and the family motto.
  • “ 'Then you are not of the brotherhood.' "
    “ 'How?' ”
    “ 'You are not of the masons.' ” -- An important allusion in the story, Fortunato is asking Montressor (by flashing a secret sign) if he is a member of the Freemasons, a secret brotherhood. Although Montressor claims that he is a member, he is not; instead, in an ironic twist, he holds up a trowel in response to the hand sign displayed by Fortunato. The trowel is a masonry tool--the one which will seal Fortunato's doom.
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What historical references are found in "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe?

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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