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The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Who is the uninvited guest in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

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The uninvited guest in "The Masque of the Red Death" is described as a "tall and gaunt" figure dressed in "habiliments of the grave." His appearance resembles the "countenance of a stiffened corpse" and his clothing is "dabbled in blood." The features of his face are "besprinkled with the scarlet horror," and the personification of the Red Death is described as a terrifying, ghastly "spectral image."

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The uninvited guest who attends Prospero's masked ball is the Red Death, which has penetrated the walls of the prince's confined, secluded estate. At the stroke of midnight, the uninvited guest arrives at the eccentric masquerade, shocking the aristocrats and casting a gloomy, unsettling mood throughout the extensive imperial suite. Prospero and his guests are aghast and disgusted when they see the repulsive "spectral image." Poe writes that the uninvited guest had "out-Heroded Herod," and the presence of the horrible figure offends the prince and his close friends. Poe then describes the awful intruder by writing,

The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat … His vesture was dabbled in blood—and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.

The vivid description of the intruder resembles the effects of the Red Death described at the beginning of the story. The fatal pestilence causes its victims to bleed from their pores, staining their bodies in scarlet before killing them in a half an hour. Similar to victims of the Red Death, the intruder is covered in blood and looks like a stiffened corpse that has escaped its grave. The description of the uninvited guests indicates that the Red Death has entered the barricaded walls of Prospero's lavish estate, proving that no one can outwit death. Shortly after the Red Death interrupts the ball, Prince Prospero and his guests die in the seventh chamber attempting to defeat the terrifying ghostly figure.

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In Poe's classic short story "The Masque of the Red Death," the "dauntless," bold Prince Prospero hosts a magnificent, bizarre masquerade inside his castellated abbey while the deadly pestilence known as the Red Death wreaks havoc throughout the surrounding countryside. Prince Prospero's masquerade is held throughout the seven ornately decorated rooms of his imperial suite, which are colored differently and symbolically represent the course of human life. The seventh room is associated with death and shrouded in black velvet tapestries with scarlet window panes. There is also a large ebony clock in the seventh room, which reminds the revelers of their impending death and makes them shudder every time it strikes.

When the clock strikes midnight, an uninvited guest arrives and appears to be the personification of the Red Death. Prince Prospero's guests are horrified by the unsettling, grotesque appearance of the uninvited guest, who is "tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave." The mask of the unknown guest resembles the "countenance of a stiffened corpse" and his clothes are dabbled in blood.

Once the guest reaches the seventh room, Prince Prospero attempts to challenge him but is instantly struck dead in his presence. The other revelers experience the same fate when they try to defeat the Red Death. The uninvited guest is also described as a terrifying "spectral image," and its blood-spattered garments are "untenanted by any tangible form," which confirms its identity as the personification of the Red Death.

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The uninvited guest in "The Masque of the Red Death" is the mysterious stranger who appears among the revellers after they had been isolated in Prince Prospero's castle for several months. Suddenly, he was simply there. His appearance was hideous:

The figure was tall and gaunt and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat . . . . the [figure] had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in blood--and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.

This guest seemed to be the embodiment of the deadly disease the revellers were attempting to escape. He appeared among them looking like a corpse, covered with blood, and he moved among them "with a slow and solemn movement." He is a spectral, ghostly image of death who inspires shuddering and terror in those who look upon him.

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The masked figure appears suddenly at twelve midnight. Neither Prospero nor any of his guests had noticed this figure prior to this moment. The guests are initially disapproving, and then quickly move to feelings of terror and horror. 

Even though there are many people dressed up, this figure stands out. The narrator says he "out-Heroded Herod." This is a reference to the Biblical figure Herod, but also a nod to Hamlet, in which Hamlet mocks the actors for being too dramatic. In short, the figure conjures the image of an unsavory and dramatic character. 

The mask itself looks quite similar to that of a "stiffened corpse." He also has the signs and symptoms of the red death: 

His vesture was dabbled in blood—and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror. 

The masked figure looks like a victim of the red death. The red death is precisely what the guests are trying to escape and (selfishly) ignore. Prospero orders his guests to unmask the figure. They make an initial move, but stop, too terrified to approach. Prospero dies when trying to confront this personified Red Death. The guests finally confront him, only to find the figure has no tangible, physical form under the disguise. The figure had been like a ghost or perhaps a collective hallucination on the part of Prospero and his guests. From the reader's perspective, the figure might also be a metaphor. In other words, his personified form is Poe's way of giving death a willful, maniacal presence. 

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In "The Masque of the Red Death," what effect does the uninvited guest's presence have on the other guests?

Prince Prospero plans an embellished and bold masquerade in an attempt to prevent the doom of the Red Death from reaching him and his courtiers as they revel in the seclusion of one of his "castellated abbeys." However, as the clock strikes twelve times on the hour of midnight there is an uneasiness among the guests as they detect the presence of a masked figure unfamiliar to any of them.  Throughout the chambers, a rumor, a buzz, surprise, terror, then, finally horror and disgust fills the chambers.  Even amongst such bizarre figures as the masked guests of Prince Prospero, this figure "out-Herolded Herod," and exceeded the bounds of the "prince's indefinite decorum."  For, this guest has exceeded "those matters of which no jest can be made."

The entire company of guests senses the insult to decorum of this uninvited guest.  For, he is as though shrouded for burial. His mask resembles the head of a cadaver.  Moreover, his vestment is dabbled in blood and his features "besprinkled with the scarlet horror."  It is this bloodied "vesture" that effects the greatest horror in the Prince's guests.  The terrified guests part and shrink back against the walls as this intruder makes his way through the various chambers to the Prince who has demanded to know "Who dares?"

After the Prince approaches with a drawn dagger, there is a cry and his dagger falls; instantly, the Prince lies prostrate in death.  Then, one-by-one the revelers in the "blood-bedewed halls of their reel," die in a desperate and despairing position as the falmes of the tripods go out and the clock strikes no more.

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Describe the “midnight guest" in "The Masque of the Red Death."

The "midnight guest" is, of course, the personification of the Red Death coming to claim the revelers at the party. This figure arrives at the stroke of midnight, & causes much disturbance among the other guests.

And thus, too, it happened, perhaps, that before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before.

This figure is beyond grotesque. Although Prince Prospero has seemingly endless tolerance for phantasms & nightmares, this one particular costume captures attention for having "gone beyond the bounds of even the prince's indefinite decorum." This party-crasher strikes fear into the hearts of the guests, & they slowly come to realize that this is no ordinary party-goer. He seems to be wearing the clothes of a corpse, & his face shows the symptoms of the Red Death.

The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat. And yet all this might have been endured, if not approved, by the mad revellers around. But the mummer had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in blood—and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.

This is the one costume that is not allowed: the one aspect of life the Prince tried at all costs to avoid. Yet it's not a costume, & by the time those in attendance at the party eventually realize this, they have already succumbed to its contagion.

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