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

Start Free Trial

What is the setting of "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Quick answer:

"A cask of Amontillado" is the story of revenge by means of a murder. Montresor, who narrates the story, enlists Fortunato to help him get revenge for insults he suffered at the hands of Fortunato, who has insulted him several times in his home. Montresor invites Fortunato to a wine tasting in his palazzo. He lures Fortunato into the catacombs below his palazzo and seals him in with bricks and mortar.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Cask of Amontillado takes place in Italy during Carnevale: a festive time in the country similar to Mardi Gras in the United States. We start there, at night, in the madness, but are then taken back to the home of Montressor, more specifically, into the catacombs/wine cellars below. The setting is described as dark and damp, with niter climbing the walls and a mix of casks of wine and bones littering the area. The men carry flambeaux, creating the idea of darkness with only the small light of fire guiding the way. The Carnevale setting provides irony of a horror story taking place in such a festive and unlikely backdrop. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Montresor lives in a palazzo. Fortunato lives in a palazzo. There must be plenty of such enormous buildings, and therefore the locale in question would have to be a large, important city. It would have to be in Italy because palazzo is an Italian word. It would have to be a seaport to explain the arrival of a shipment of Amontillado. Amontillado is only produced in Spain. The cask is described by both Fortunato and Montresor as a "pipe." A pipe contains 126 gallons. This is an enormous barrel. A shipment of such barrels could not have been transported over the mountains between Spain and France and then across France and over the Alps into Italy in wagons drawn by mules. It must have arrived by ship from Barcelona. Venice is the only possible destination, since Venice is full of old palazzi built in its former days of glory, and since Venice is still famous for its annual carnival. Neither Montresor nor Fortunato intends to drink all that Amontillado. They see it as an investment. They can store it indefinitely in oak barrels and it will only improve with age. They can bottle it and sell it off in cases to the British and Austrian millionaires Montresor mentions in the third paragraph of the story.

Henry James writes about an old palazzo in his story "The Aspern Papers."  

I forget what answer I made to this--I was given up to two other reflections. The first of these was that if the old lady lived in such a big, imposing house she could not be in any sort of misery and therefore would not be tempted by a chance to let a couple of rooms. I expressed this idea to Mrs. Prest, who gave me a very logical reply. "If she didn't live in a big house how could it be a question of her having rooms to spare? If she were not amply lodged herself you would lack ground to approach her. Besides, a big house here, and especially in this quartier perdu, proves nothing at all: it is perfectly compatible with a state of penury. Dilapidated old palazzi, if you will go out of the way for them, are to be had for five shillings a year. And as for the people who live in them--no, until you have explored Venice socially as much as I have you can form no idea of their domestic desolation. They live on nothing, for they have nothing to live on."                                                                                        Henry James, “The Aspern Papers” (1888)

Montresor is a poor man and apparently no longer has a family. He is probably only living in a palazzo with a skeleton staff of servants because the rent is cheap and the big building helps him put on a good "front."

That it is an ancient city is shown by the fact that so many centuries of accumulated human bones are described as the two men wind their way through the catacombs. Montresor did not attach the chains to the granite wall. They had been there for centuries and had been used for the same purpose by feudal lords to punish rebellious subjects.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Edgar Allan Poe's classic short story is set some time before 1846 (the year it was first published) and quite possibly during the late 18th century. The story is almost certainly set in Italy, although no specific city is mentioned; but it could also take place along the Italian-French border, since Mardi Gras-type carnivals were more common in France at the time. It was not unusual for Poe--a distinctly American writer--to use a European setting.

... Poe believed in using elements from Europe if they were useful artistically, and he believed that international settings helped establish universality... In ‘‘The Cask of Amontillado,’’ therefore, he used a European setting to create his exotic and murky atmosphere... (eNotes, "TCOA," Historical Context) 

We know it takes place during "the supreme madness of the carnival season," and most of the story evolves beneath the home of Montresor in the family catacombs that doubles as a wine cellar. Poe sets his entire tale at night, which adds to its creepy uncertainty and the impending evil that unfolds. Poe seems to deliberately keep the locale unknown to the story's readers, muddling it with Italian words and characters (Fortunato, Luchesi), Latin phrases, a French killer (Montresor), and a Spanish wine.  

If Poe's readers could not be expected to identify the nationality of each element, so much the better for creating the impression that the story happens "in another place and time.’’  (eNotes, "TCOA," Style) 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Poe leaves the setting ambiguous, but internal clues point toward a Southern location, whether in Europe or America. The names "Montresor" and "Fortunato" are from one of the Latin languages (Spanish, French, or Italian), and so could indicate the city is set in one of those countries. American writers of the time had a fascination with southern Europe (as did the British), and it was frequently used as settings in Romantic and Gothic works.

The fact that there was a carnival also indicates Mardi Gras, usually celebrated in predominantly Catholic locations. New Orleans in the US is an obvious choice for that one, but other Mediterranean locales would also answer.

As with much in this story, Poe leaves much unanswered.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The story takes place during Carnival/Mardi Gras celebrations (possibly in New Orleans?).  Montresor meets Fortunato as the latter is celebrating, perhaps a little too much.  The alcohol mixed with party atmostphere make Fortunato more easily led in search of this fabulous wine. 

From the life of a party, down to the depths of the earth in the crypts below Montresor's home, the setting symbolizes Fortunato's journey from life without cares to his death at the hands of Montresor.  The creepiness of the the crypts, with cobwebs, loose mortar, etc. juxtapose the gaity of the carnival, providing an even greater contrast lending itself to the eerie mood.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The specific setting of the story is never actually stated.  The events would appear to have taken place in a European country, but while "Fortunato" and "Luchesi" are Italian names, "Montressor" is most arguably French, and "Amontillado" is a Spanish wine.  Also, Montressor's coat of arms is Scottish in origin, and there are various Latin phrases and references scattered throughout the narrative.  The exact location of the story is ambiguous, leaving the impression only that it is "another place and time".

The exact timing of the story is never stated either, although critics have most often placed it in the eighteenth or nineteenth century.

In a more general sense, the story is set in a city, again, most likely European, and a long time ago, during a season of carnival or celebration.  The majority of the action takes place in the labyrinth-like, dreary catacombs, or series of underground chambers, underneath the palazzo, or estate, of Montressor.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the geographical, physical, and historical setting of "The Cask of Amontillado"?

"The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe is set in one of the older and wealthier cities of Italy. Although the name of the city is not specified, Venice is a likely possibility. It is narrated in the first person by Montresor, who appears relatively wealthy, given the size of his palazzo and his having servants and being able to afford fine wines, although he may have been from a formerly wealthy family that has fallen on hard times.

The narrator at the end says that the events took place fifty years ago; the narrator himself appears to be on his death bed confessing his sins before being given last rites. Although no actual dates are given, the mention of "British and Austrian millionaires" suggests late eighteenth or early nineteenth century for a general period. The time of year is Carnival, the celebration that precedes Ash Wednesday and the first day of Lent; the specific date of Carnival varies depending on the date of Easter, which changes from year to year.

There are two locations of the main events of the story, outside at Carnival and indoors in the catacombs of Montresor's palazzo. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the setting in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Poe intentionally set "The Cask of Amontillado" long ago and far away because it is a perfect-crime story. Editors wouldn't publish a story in which a contemporary American commits a cold-blooded, premeditated murder--and gets away with it! Poe ends his story with these words:

Against the new masonry I re-erected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat!

So the crime was committed at least a half-century ago and probably somewhat longer. The victim is dead and his body has never been discovered. The perpetrator is also probably dead by this time. Even if Fortunato's body were found now, there would be no one to charge with his murder, and it might be impossible even to identify him as the long-missing Fortunato. The story seems to be represented as an old letter found among the papers of Montresor after his death and tranlated into English by a Mr. Edgar Allan Poe to be published in an American magazine; or else as having been found among the papers of the now dead recipient of Montresor's confidential letter. 

Since Montresor is writing to a man or woman whom he addresses as "You, who so well know the nature of my soul," there is no need for him to explain where his palazzo is located. Such large, imposing buildings could only have been built in important cities, and the word palazzo immediately suggests Venice. The annual carnival of Venice, which is still celebrated today, was world famous. There are two settings in the story, the crowded streets where Montresor encounters his victim, and the stygian catacombs where he entombs him. 

The effect of the story is produced largely by the underground setting full of dead men's bones. Poe lures the reader down into these dark tunnels just as Montresor lures Fortunato. Through his narrator Montresor, Poe describes the darkness, dampness, bones, dripping water, and fetid odors. The gloomy setting was also essential to the commission of the perfect crime. Fortunato's body had to be completely hidden from the world because he was an important man and there would be an extensive inquiry into his disappearance. 

There are still very few stories, novels, or movies in which a perfect crime is successfully committed, although there are many in which some unscrupulous egotist attempts to commit a perfect murder but gets caught because of having overlooked one important detail. (Poe wrote several such stories himself, including "The Tell-Tale Heart." Readers and moviegoers are intrigued by perfect-crime plots, but most of them do not really want to see a murderer get away with his crime. They can't even be sure that he did get away with it, because there is no statute of limitations on murder, and a "cold case" with be broken years after the event by someone's confession or some newly discovered piece of evidence. Poe had to have Montresor say at the end that he had gotten away with Fortunato's murder for at least fifty years before the reader can feel assured that the crime was really successful.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the setting in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado"?

The setting is most likely Italy as in the exposition of Poe's story, Montresor describes his enemy, Fortunato, to his audience,

He had a weak point--this Fortunato....He prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit....In painting and gemmary,l Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack....

With the name of the narrator and his rather supercilious attitude, the reader can assume that Montresor is French. The catacombs into which Montresor lures Fortunato on the pretext that the man dressed as a harlequin during the "Carnival," or the celebration prior to the six weeks of Lent, give a taste judgment from a vat of Amontillado houses at least some of Montresor's ancestors in its catacombs. For, as the two men traverse the damp corridor that winds and curves, Montresor points to his coat of arms, on which there is a huge golden foot that crushes a rearing serpent against a blue background. It is described with French: "A huge human foot d'or [of gold] and the narrator employs another French word, puncheons, which are large vats.

Further, Montresor's diction may be a clue that he is French as he describes his drawing of the sword as his rapier; earlier, he has drawn a roquelaure, a cloak, over his shoulders. Still, the setting is ambiguous. Perhaps, because Americans such as Poe were intrigued in the 19th century with the grotesque and gothic of southern Europe, the story is set in this geographic area: The Amontillado wine is Spanish, Fortunato and Luchese are clearly Italian, Montresor is French, yet his "catacombs" are probably located in Rome where the early Christians hid. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the setting in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Edgar Allan Poe, in his short story The Cask of Amontillado, provides no overt description of the setting in which his macabre story takes place.  The reader, however, can easily infer the setting from a number of phrases and words Poe uses in telling his story of a vengeful man luring an acquaintance to his doom.  While a discussion of Italian wines does not in and of itself suggest that the story takes place in Italy, it does appear to be the case that a town or city in Italy is in fact the setting.  First, there is this passage by the narrator that strongly implies an Italian setting:

“He prided himself on his connoisseurship 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. In painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack—but in the matter of old wines he was sincere.”

“Few Italians” combined with the name “Fortunato” and the references to Britain and Austria clearly suggest an Italian setting, as there is definitely a European focus here.  In addition, reference to another acquaintance, “Luchese,” again suggests an Italian locale.  Finally, there is the following passage that again strongly implies that the story takes place in Italy:

“Putting on a mask of black silk, and drawing a roquelaire closely about my person, I suffered him to hurry me to my palazzo. There were no attendants at home;”

So, we can establish that the city, town or village is in Italy, and we know that Poe lived in the early 19th Century, and that The Cask of Amontillado was published in 1846, so it seems logical to place the time frame towards the middle of that century.  The bulk of the story, though, takes place inside the narrator’s home, which is apparently quite large, and quite old.  We can, again, infer from the information provided in the narration that follows that the home is gothic in nature and was built many years, possibly centuries before the story takes place:

“I took from their sconces two flambeaux, and giving one to Fortunato, bowed him through several suites of rooms to the archway that led into the vaults. I passed down a long and winding staircase, requesting him to be cautious as he followed. We came at length to the foot of the descent, and stood together on the damp ground of the catacombs of the Montresors.”

A long winding staircase suggests a large structure with a deep cellar, in which are located a series of catacombs, subterranean burial sites that could date back to the Roman Empire, thereby once again suggesting a very old and very large building.  To conclude, then, The Cask of Amontillado takes place in an Italian village or town, around the early- to mid-19th Century, with the story’s climax taking place in the dungeon of an old and large building. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on