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The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

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What are Prince Prospero's character traits in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

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Throughout Poe's short story "The Masque of the Red Death," Prince Prospero is portrayed as a wealthy, arrogant, selfish man who believes he can overcome and outlast the deadly plague by locking himself inside of his well-provisioned, magnificent abbey. Prince Prospero is initially described as "happy and dauntless and sagacious" as he invites various aristocrats to hold out with him inside his abbey while the plague passes through the countryside. Prospero's determined and fearless personality is depicted by his defiance towards the Red Death. He refuses to become a victim and goes to great lengths to protect himself. While thousands of his subjects suffer from the Red Death, Prospero selfishly enjoys delicacies as he and his aristocratic guests entertain themselves during the plague. Prospero is also described as having "eccentric yet august taste," which is illustrated by his cleverly designed rooms that represent various stages of one's life. When Prince Prospero first encounters the Red Death during his ball, he becomes infuriated and calls for the intruder to be arrested. Poe adds another description of the prince by referring to him as a "bold and robust man." Unfortunately for Prince Prospero, he cannot escape death and falls victim to the Red Death after it pursues him through the various rooms in his abbey. Prospero's belief that he could outwit and outlast death reveals his naive, overconfident disposition.

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Aptly named, Prince Prospero is prosperous, or wealthy.  He is a "bold and robust" man whose wealth, strength, and power lead to his self-deception that he is powerful enough to defy the Red Death.  While Poe further describes Prospero as "dauntless and sagacious," his fearlessness and wisdom are, nevertheless, no match for the darkness and decay that the Red Death issues, an evil that holds "illimitable dominion over all."

When the "happy" Prospero learns that half of his kingdom has been decimated by the plaque, he summons to his "castellated abbeys" all the friends he has among the aristocracy of his kingdom, knights and ladies of the court.  There, behind ramparts that have been bolted, the guests and the prince seek sanctuary from the Red Death, and joyously hold a masked ball in a voluptuous scene.  However, Prospero, who has disregarded the requirements of good taste by creating rooms of dark and unusual colors, has given vent to the grotesque and phantasmagoric, perhaps in defiance of the Red Death.  Into this atmosphere a "spectral image" appears, and the prince at first shudders, but then being dauntless, "his brow reddened with rage."  Outraged that this spectre should dare to enter his fortress in what he believes is a "blasphemous mockery" of the Red Death, Prospero orders the impostor unmasked so that he can later be hanged.  When the courtiers hear this order of their prince, they hasten to see what is the cause, but they stop in horror as the spectre advances through each of the colored rooms. Angered at his momentary cowardice, Prince Prospero comes at this masked intruder with a dagger.  Suddenly, however, he cries out and drops the dagger; and, immediately after this, he falls in death, a victim to the invincible Red Death.  

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