The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe

The Masque of the Red Death book cover
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At a Glance

"The Masque of the Red Death" key characters:

  • In "The Masque of the Red Death," Prince Prospero isolates himself and his friends from the suffering of others while the Red Death spreads; he demonstrates extravagant tastes and may be mad.

  • The Masked Figure sneaks into the masked ball and is a literal personification of the Black Death.

  • Prospero’s thousand friends are nameless and may be figments of his imagination.

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Characters

(Short Stories for Students)

The Masked Figure
The ‘‘masked figure’’ that appears at Prince Prospero's costume ball is the most illusive ‘‘character'' in the story. Upon the stroke of midnight, the guests first notice this ‘‘masked figure,’’ who is ‘‘tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave,’’ and looks like the corpse of a body afflicted by the Red Death, its face ‘‘besprinkled with the scarlet horror.’’ Prince Prospero orders that the figure be unmasked and hanged at dawn, but his guests refuse to unmask him. The figure then retreats through all seven rooms of the abbey, pursued by Prince Prospero. When the figure reaches the seventh room, it turns to face the Prince, who falls instantly to his death. When the guests rush to seize the figure, they find that, beneath the corpselike costume, there is no "tangible form.'' The masked figure turns out to be The Red Death itself. It had crept into the sealed abbey "like a thief in the night.'' The last line of the story indicates that the Red Death has triumphed over life: "And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.’’

Prince Prospero
Prince Prospero is the central character of "The Masque of the Red Death.’’ Despite the plague of the Red Death which rages throughout his country, the Prince ignores the suffering of others and invites ‘‘a thousand friends’’ from his court to seal themselves in an abbey of his castle in order to protect themselves from the pestilence. In order to distract them from the death and suffering outside their walls, the prince provides his guests with "all the appliances of pleasure,’’ and holds a masquerade ball after the fifth or sixth month. In all of his arrangements, Prince Prospero's taste is extravagant and "bizarre." When the mysterious figure bearing the masque of the Red Death appears at his masquerade ball, the Prince demands that he be unmasked and hanged ‘‘at sunrise.’’ Yet, while his guests shrink in horror from the figure, the Prince, carrying a dagger, pursues it through the first six rooms to the seventh. When he confronts the figure, the dagger drops from his hand and he falls to the floor, dead.

There is some indication that Prince Prospero may be a mad man, and that the...

(The entire section is 611 words.)