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

Who does Prince Prospero represent in "The Masque of the Red Death?"

Quick answer:

Prince Prospero represents humankind's pride, our arrogant and mistaken belief that we can somehow escape nature and cheat death.

Expert Answers

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

Prince Prospero represents humankind's pride, our arrogant and mistaken belief that we can somehow escape nature and cheat death.  The narrator says that "No pestilence had ever been so fatal [...]," and, yet, the prince believes that he is somehow above everyone else and can render himself (and his friends)...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

immune to this terrible disease.  The Red Death has already claimed half of his kingdom, so "he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys."  He has the money and the ability to hide himself away, and so this makes him believe that he is somehow special, that he can remain immune to the disease.  His party is described as "voluptuous" with everyone in costume and rooms filled with "delirious fancies," "the beautiful," and the "bizarre."  The prince seems to think that he can hide from death by controlling his environment because he overestimates his own importance.

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

What does Prince Prospero symbolize in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

It could also be argued that Prince Prospero symbolizes hedonism and the human desire for pleasure. When the Red Death decimates his kingdom, Prospero's reaction is to gather together all of his friends in the abbey. As we see in the following quote, Prospero does not intend on ruminating about death or worrying at all about the plague:

The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine.

In other words, the Prince's priority is to have a good time and to not think about the realities of what is going on in his kingdom. All he cares about is entertaining his guests in the most splendid way possible.

At the end of the story, however, the Red Death catches up with Prospero and kills him. Through his death, Poe argues that pleasure is only a temporary distraction from the harsh realities of life. No matter how rich or how cultured, no man can escape death because death is an inevitability.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does Prince Prospero symbolize in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

Prince Prospero can also symbolize the superiority that man sometimes thinks he/she has.  Prince Prospero thought that by sequestering himself and his guests that he could somehow cheat death.  Only the higher social class was invited to his "ball," which represents how Prospero viewed this class as being more important than any others "below" it.  Prospero can also symbolize how out of touch the upper class was with the lower classes in society.  Perhaps Prospero and his revelers felt they deserved to live and the lower social classes did not simply because they had money and power.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  Death affects all.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does Prince Prospero symbolize in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

Prince Prospero symbolizes mankind and its inability to deal with the realities of death. Prospero, like many men, thinks he can avoid death or at least put it off. When the Red Death begins to kill most of the people in Prospero's kingdom, he attempts to use his wealth and possessions to escape the fate of everyman. He calls in his best friends, walls up his castle, and provides food and entertainment that lasts about six months. However, as Poe points out in this allegory, no man can escape death---It will seek you out and find you. This is exactly what happens to Prospero. Just when he is thinking he has escaped the plague, it invades his castle, seeks out his guests and leads Prospero through the seven rooms. According to critic H. H. Bell, Jr., in his article '‘‘The Masque of the Red Death': An Interpretation, the seven rooms are each an ‘‘an allegorical representation of Prince Prospero's life span.’’ Thus, once Prospero, like all men, go through the various stages of their lives, there is only one conclusion--- death. This is exactly what happens to Prospero.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does Prince Prospero symbolize in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death"?

In this story, Prince Prospero seems to symbolize those people with wealth, status, or some kind of authority, who believe themselves to be somehow above or outside of those problems, such as the ability to die, that affect everyone else.  Despite the fact that there had never been such a deadly disease, a disease which had ravaged and taken half his kingdom, the prince still seems to think that he can somehow escape it.  The description of him as "happy, dauntless, and sagacious" is ironic when one considers that his happiness comes at steep a price (his integrity); further, one who runs away from one's kingdom and people can hardly be considered brave, and neither is he wise who believes that he can escape mortality.  

Prospero is rich enough to possess a castle far away to which he can retire and invite one thousand of his most carefree and healthy friends to attend him.  He can stock the abbey with all types of provisions, even welding the iron gates shut so that no one can get in or out.  However, his wealth and status cannot protect him from death; they do not entitle him to safety when everyone else is prone to disease and decay.  And in the end, he is not immune to death.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is Prince Prospero's fate in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

Prince Prospero decides to respond to the frightening epidemic of the Red Death sweeping through the kingdom by holding a lavish masquerade ball and inviting the wealthiest inhabitants of the region. One of the guests is cloaked and masked as the Grim Reaper. This angers Prince Prospero, who wanted his ball to be a festive occasion. This mysterious guest causes discomfort and a vague feeling of horror among the guests.

The Prince had arranged for seven chambers of his palace to be decorated in rich colors, with draperies and furnishings matching the singular wall colors, with the last chamber of the seven being two colors: black walls and draperies with blood red windows. This last room gave the guests a chilling feeling of dread and many of them cannot even enter it without feeling unwell. It is in this last chamber where Prince Proposer meets his demise.

This occurs after he pursues the mysterious cloaked and masked figure. He finally corners him in that seventh chamber and raises a dagger; but then the prince collapses and dies. The guests learn the the mysterious figure does not even exist under the cloak and mask, and they too collapse and die, all consumed by the Red Death which Prince Prospero had hoped to shelter them all from.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does the death of Prince Prospero represent?

In Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death," although the "Red Death" has devastated the country, Prince Prospero feels himself "happy and dauntless and sagacious." In his arrogance of having wealth and position, the prince believes that he can girder himself and his court inside the ramparts of one of his "castellated abbeys."  Believing that this ancient fortress will prevent the Red Death from assaulting them, the court and the prince engage in revelries as they attend a masquerade.

Since the prince "loves the bizarre," seven rooms are each designed so that the guests cannot see into the other rooms; and, the stained glass windows are of the same hue as the room's decor.

The tastes of the duke were peculiar.  he had a fine eye for colors and effects.  He disregarded the decora of mere fashio.  His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric luster....Ther were much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm...There were delirious fancies such as the madman fahions.

Clearly, Prince Prospero is a unique man who fancies himself superior to others, his powers outside the range of others.  He is in control of the entire masquerade; that is, until he becomes aware of "a masked figure." But, is this figure who 'out-masks' the creative designer of the masque as the deception of the intruder is not marked until it is too late.  For, the enraged Prince Prospero who raises a dagger and arrogantly demands, "Who dares?" is assaulted by something more powerful: the Red Death. 

He who forbids the "ingress and egress" of his abbey; he who has created his own designs and merriment; he who is "dauntless and sagacious" is attacked by one more dauntless and knowing: the Red Death.  The death of Prince Propspero proves that nothing man-made can stop the terrible plague, not money or fortresses, or boldness.

Last Updated on