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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History of the Text

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Publication History and Reception:“The Cask of Amontillado” was originally published in Godey’s Lady’s Book, a widely read magazine, in November 1846. “The Cask of Amontillado” is Poe’s last short story and considered one of his best.

  • Inspiration: The short story was partially inspired by a literary feud between Poe and fellow writer Thomas Dunn English. The two men not only got into a fist fight but also published harsh criticism of one another; at one point in 1846, English published a slanderous and damaging attack on Poe, who filed a suit against the publisher. While the suit took place, English also published a serial, pro-temperance novel starting in 1846, called 1844, or, The Power of the S.F. The novel included a character named Marmaduke Hammerhead, a brilliant writer with a drinking problem, that some interpreted as a reference to Poe. Although Poe’s libel suit was successful, “The Cask of Amontillado” can be seen as an effort to exact revenge on English, who is likely the inspiration behind the foolish Fortunato.

An Exemplar of Gothic Literature: Edgar Allan Poe’s works exhibit many tropes of the gothic-fiction genre, with “The Cask of Amontillado” serving as a prime example. The story establishes a suspenseful mood as Montresor informs the reader that he seeks revenge on Fortunato. The main setting of the story is in the Montresor catacombs, an underground cemetery filled with the bones of the dead. The horrifying and the macabre are further explored as Montresor leads and traps Fortunato within the catacombs before leaving him to die.

  • In general, gothic literature often includes medieval or creepy settings, villains, antiheroes, and supernatural creatures along with anything sensual, macabre, and horrifying. Well-known examples of gothic literature include Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho.

Significant Allusions

Allusions to Cultural History: Allusions to cultural history develop the setting and themes in Poe’s story.

  • The events of the story occur during Carnival, a period associated with freedom and joy in Catholic culture. Carnival occurs before Lent, the forty-day period prior to Easter that Jesus Christ spent in the desert. Lent is often associated with abstaining from earthly sins, and Carnival is a time to indulge and celebrate freedom beforehand. Montresor uses the distraction of the Carnival to safely lure Fortunato into the catacombs, as the celebration ensures they will not be seen. 
  • As they go deeper into the catacombs, Fortunato makes a “grotesque” hand movement at Montresor, who does not understand its meaning. Fortunato then says to Montresor, “Then you are not of the brotherhood,” clarifying with, “you are not of the masons.” The masons, or freemasons, are a fraternity that dates back to the 14th century. Here, the term acts as a pun. Though Montresor may not be a part of the brotherhood of the freemasons, he does plan on engaging in the literal act of stonemasonry by the end of the night.

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