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The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Describe the seven rooms in the prince's palace in "The Masque of the Red Death."

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Poe provides a fair amount of detail for each of the seven rooms. Firstly, he wants the reader to understand that the layout of this particular suite of rooms is unlike those in other palaces, writing

In many palaces, however, such suites form a long and straight vista, while the folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either hand, so that the view of the whole extent is scarcely impeded. Here the case was very different; as might have been expected from the duke's love of the bizarre. The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect.

Prospero's castle contains many angles, impeding one's vision and increasing the strange mood of the tale. Despite the disjointed nature of the architecture, each room has a few common features:

To the right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window looked out upon a closed corridor which pursued the windings of the suite. These windows were of stained glass whose color varied in accordance with the prevailing hue of the decorations of the chamber into which it opened.

This uniformity is juxtaposed with the bizarre positioning, throwing off the balance of both visitor and reader. Poe then moves through a very brief description of the first six individual rooms, telling the reader that "in no one of the seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from lamp or candle within the suite of chambers." In order to differentiate the first six rooms, Poe focuses on their color schemes, which are as follows:

  • First and most eastern room: Blue
  • Second: Purple
  • Third: Green
  • Fourth: Orange
  • Fifth: White
  • Sixth: Violet

However, upon reaching the seventh, westernmost room, Poe expands his description. The room itself "was closely shrouded in black tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls." This initially follows the single-color scheme that Poe has established. However, Poe shifts the pattern greatly. Unlike the other six rooms, the window color of the black room does not match the room color, as "[t]he panes here were scarlet -- a deep blood red color."

As mentioned earlier, there was no light emanating from lamps or candles in any room, but after his description of the black room, Poe writes that "in the corridors that followed the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire that projected its rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly illumined the room." This produced "a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances." Poe goes on to say that in the westernmost (black) chamber, "the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all."

As if that doesn't make this room spooky enough, Poe describes the central focal point of the room: "a gigantic clock of ebony." The clock stands against the western wall. However, Poe is not content to leave it at that. He expands his description by writing what might be one of the longest two-sentence sequences in literature:

Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to hearken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation. But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of sixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies,) there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.

Poe puts far more detail into the description of this single clock than he does into the combined description of the other aspects of the seven rooms. Even before the reader goes any further, it is clear that this clock is going to be very important. Not only does it receive a great deal of description itself, but it has a distinct effect on each and every one of the revelers, every single hour.

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The room in the story "The Masque of the Red Death" are arranged in such a way that you had vision into only one at a time. In each room, in the center of the wall dividing from the winding corridor was a "narrow Gothic window" which looked out upon this corridor. The window were made of stained glass in the color fitting the room. Each room had a designated color pattern to it. The first was blue; the second was purple; The third was green; the fourth was orange; the fifth was white; the sixth was violet. The seventh room varied from this pattern as it was decorated in black but the window panes were scarlet, "a deep blood color". In the corridor connecting the rooms, outside each window stood a tripod of fire "that projected its rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly illumined the room." However, in the black room the effect of this projection of light "was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all".

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Discuss the seven rooms in "The Masque of Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe.

'But first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held. There were seven—an imperial suite.’

Edgar Allan Poe was a master at description and imagery.  The details of his  stories set him apart from the ordinary writer because Poe’s purpose of horror astounds the reader through his settings, his characters, and the terrifying endings of his stories. “The Masque of the Red Death” exemplifies these details.

 Because of the terrible plague that consumed the majority of the citizens of his kingdom, Prince Prospero has moved into a “castellated abbey.” An abbey normally houses the religious leaders of the community, and of course, the prince is the ruler of the state.  The abbey built like an enormous castle symbolically  houses both the church and state.  The Prince since he was hiding from the plague may have thought that the disease would never dare to enter the house of God.

After several months, he tires of doing nothing ; therefore, the Prince decides to have a masque or masquerade ball.  Those who are invited will wear costumes to hide their identity.  Again, another instance of trying to hide from reality.

The Prince outdoes himself by creating seven rooms that each have a different color scheme. The colors which invade the rooms include from east to west: blue, purple, green, orange, white, violet and last but certainly least black.

The Seven Rooms

There are various interpretations of the meaning of the numbers and colors of the rooms. The analysis that is most often written uses Shakespeare’s idea of the stages of man from the play As You Like It

The seven stages identified with the color of the rooms suggest the life of a man:

Blue, which is the farthest east, represents the beginning of the day or of a man’s life. Blue suggests birth.

Purple=Growth and in the stages of man, a whining school boy with his satchel

Green=Spring and the youth of man

Orange=Fall and the adult years of man

White=Aging, the age of justice and wisdom from the experiences of life

Violet=This is a combination of several of the previous colors which symbolizes the coming end of life and moving toward death.

Black=Death is represented by the room that is the farthest west which indicates the setting of the sun and the dying of the day and man.  To Shakespeare, the last stage of man was oblivion. No one goes into this room probably because symbolically everyone fears death.

In this final room, the coloring sets it apart from the other rooms.  The windows are painted red; and with the torch lighting, anyone in the room looks as though they are covered with blood. 

The Red Death shows up in the Blue Room and traverses through all of the other rooms until he arrives in the last room where he faces off against the Prince. The people also follow Red Death to unmask him and find themselves in the Black room.

Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of the revelers at once threw themselves into the black apartment, and seizing the mummer…gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave cerements and corpse-like mask untenanted by a tangible form.

The Prince loses his life along with all the other revelers because no one can hide from death.  Death rules over everything.

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