illustration of a clockface wearing a mask and ticking closer to midnight

The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

Start Free Trial

What is Prince Prospero's solution to the red death in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Prince Prospero's solution to the red death is to run, hide, and ignore. He decides to take one thousand friends and lock them away in one of his fortified abbeys. This "castellated abbey" was surrounded by "a strong and lofty wall" with "iron gates." Once inside, the occupants, including Prospero, seal up the doors and weld them shut.

Inside, the structure had everything one could dream of, from food to entertainment. It seems Prospero felt if he locked himself away from the outside world, the red death could not get to him. From this moment forward, he chooses to pretend he is safe and that the red death does not exist.

However, this tactic does not work. One night during a festive ball, the crowd sees a masked figure walking through the colorful rooms. No one is able to recall where this person came from, and the sight of the mask, which looks eerily like the corpse of a plague victim, brings terror to the guests. At the end of the tale, it's revealed that this masked person is, in fact, the embodiment of the red death. One by one, the guests succumb to the disease and die.

Poe uses symbolism to convey Prospero's solutions. He uses the fortified palace to physically remove himself from the disease, believing that this barrier can protect him from death. He then uses the extravagant parties as a way to distract and avoid the reality at hand. However, the clock striking midnight reminds Prospero, his guests, and the reader that no one can run, hide, or avoid death.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In an astounding display of hubris, Prince Prospero barricades himself and a thousand of his closest aristocratic friends inside the walls of his castellated abbey in an attempt to outwit and outlast the Red Death. The Red Death is a devastating pestilence sweeping through the countryside and desolating the population. The deadly plague is extremely contagious and kills victims in half an hour. Despite the deadly, infectious quality of the Red Death, Prince Prospero believes that he can survive it, which motivates him to have one of his castellated abbeys stalked with food, water, and resources that will last for an extended period of time. Prince Prospero and his upper-class friends indulge in alcohol and festivities as they laugh at Death while countless subjects die each day outside the walls of the abbey. Towards the fifth or sixth month of their seclusion, Prince Prospero hosts an elaborate, bizarre masquerade in his imperial suite. At midnight, the personification of the Red Death enters the abbey and kills Prince Prospero and his guests in the ominous seventh room of the imperial suite, which proves that no one can outlast or outwit Death.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Prince Prospero has several responses to the red death.

The first response is isolation, a form of self-quarantine. He gathers 1000 friends and they all take refuge in an abbey. They were physically distant from the mass of the populace. There are also walls and gates between them and the people outside.

The idea of this is to create physical barriers between the prince, his friends, and the diseased mass of people outside.

This is one of the responses. So is the idea that he can separate the ill and the healthy, and only associate with healthy people.

After that, the prince and his friends respond to the plague by denying it: they have a giant party. They drink and dance to forget the sickness. And one detail of that is the final response: they wear masks, which means they hide from the plague.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is prince's solution to the Red Death in "The Masque of the Red Death"? 

The prince’s solution is to gather up all of his friends and have a big party.

Prince Prospero is in trouble.  There is a terrible plague ravishing his kingdom.  It kills quickly, often within thirty minutes.  By the time half of his people are dead, the prince decides to take action against the Red Death.  He throws a party for a thousand of his closest friends.

It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.

The prince locks himself and his courtiers inside his castle, and they all party.  They have celebrations of such splendor that everyone forgets about the horrible events occurring outside the walls.  The prince is so greedy and self-centered that he does nothing to try to save his people.  He just saves his friends.

Poe’s story of the embodiment of Death taking revenge on the greedy strikes a chord with modern readers just as it did when it was published.  Our leaders should protect us, lead by example, and sacrifice anything they can to help us.  When they don’t, they often get what they deserve.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on