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The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Why does Prince Prospero hold a masquerade in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

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A plague called the Red Death has taken lives for long enough that Prince Prospero decides that he must flee from the ravages of this disease. 

He gathers "a thousand hale and light-hearted friends" from among the knights and dames of his court, and they travel to one of his fortified abbeys where there are walls with iron gates. In this fortified place, the prince and his many guests surround themselves with as many distractions from the reality of death that they can.

In this allegorical tale by Edgar Allan Poe, the prince decides to have a masque in order to deceive Death and escape time. The guests dance and cavort wildly in a bizarre environment because the prince has "peculiar" tastes:

He had a fine eye for color and effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric luster. . . There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm. . . much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible.

Yet despite these deceptions within rooms that are each of different color and decor, there arrives one whom none tried to arrest because a deadly terror seized the guests. Incensed that an intruder would dare to enter his abbey, Prince Prospero rushes through the six rooms to the last as the clock strikes midnight. When Prince Prospero looks upon the spectre, he convulses and utters a sharp cry as he falls in death, a victim of his own arrogance and pride. Death claims all--rich or poor.

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Six months after locking himself and one thousand of his nearest and dearest friends within a sealed palace in an effort to escape a deadly plague, Prospero decided to throw a lavish masque.  The party was to celebrate their "escape" from the Red Death which claimed its victims within thirty minutes of contracting the disease.  Unfortunately, Prospero partied too soon and learned the hard way that no one can escape death.  A grotesque masked figure appeared at a party where everyone was dressed in bizarre costumes, but this lone figure had the audacity to dress as the Red Death.  In his anger, he chased the figure through the seven chambers of the hall and it finally turned to confront him in the final chamber... the black room with red windows.  The instant Prospero came near, he dropped dead, and soon so did everyone else at the party.  Death will not be cheated.

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Why does Prospero decorate the rooms like he does in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

Poe's seven chambers in "Masque of the Red Death" symbolize the stages of life.  The first room is blue and is located in the east.  The sun rises in the east, signifying the birth of each new day as well as the birth of man.  Blue is a calming color that symbolizes the serene life of infancy.  The next room, purple, is a deepening of the blue hue mixed with the red of experience... this is childhood when the baby gains some experiences in life (learning to walk, talk, how to relate to the world around him).  As the child grows, the third (green) room could symbolize youth.  The child begins school, and his world experience grows and blooms.  The fourth room is the orange of angry adolescence.  The fifth is white, symbolizing new beginnnings as the adolescent begins his own life as an adult.  A wedding is a new beginning, and the bride traditionally wears white.  After the white room is the violet room, or a return to childlike ways in retirement and old age.  Retired people remember what it is to "play" now that they have earned the right after years of work.  At some point in old age, the person must be cared for much like he had been during his first visit to a purple room in childhood.  The final room (located in the west) is black, symbolizing death.  The clock in this room marks the passage of time, and its chimes can be heard in all the rooms, even in the east. This shows that death is ever present.

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Why does Prospero decorate the rooms like he does in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

Each room represents a stage in human life.  The colors begin bright and happy representing innocence and vitality and progressively become more somber to represent the slowing of body performance and function and the aging process.  It is similar to Shakespeare's poem "The Seven Ages of Man" where he describes seven typical roles—infant, schoolboy, lover (adolescent), soldier (young man), justice (middle age), old man, and finally the senile elder near death--for human life.  Colors all have meaning...check the following website to see how blues, greens, yellows, etc. might affect a person's mood and then compare it to the number in sequence to the seven stages of a man's life--does it make sense to you why the room is that color scheme?  How does it fit?

http://www.biopulse.org/color.html

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Why does Prospero decorate the rooms like he does in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

There are seven chambers in the abbey. Each room is decorated a different color and draped with lush fabrics and plush furniture. Some critics believe each room is meant to represent a decade from his life. The colors he uses for each room therefore would indicate his mental and physical health and attitude. The seventh room is black with red windows and a large clock. This seems to symbolize Prospero's death. Red is symbolic of blood and black for death. This room is in the west end of the house, as well, and the sun sets in the west. The clock could be symbolic of his lifespan. When the clock had stopped, everyone had died.

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