Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Andrew's Thoughts on "The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe

The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe was first published in the May 1842 issue of Graham's Magazine. The horror short story tells of a disease ravaging the land, a disease with no cure. Here Poe calls it the Red Death in a play on the term Black Death that previously invaded Europe.

The seven differently colored rooms in the palace represent the seven stages of life, with the last being the black room, or death. Poe may have drawn on the famous lines from Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It.” All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages. As, first the infant, mewling and pewking in his nurse’s arms. And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school. And then the lover, sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then the soldier, full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard, jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel, seeking the bubble reputation even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice in fair round belly with good capon lined, with eyes severe and beard of formal cut, full of wise saws and modern instances; and so he plays his part. The six age slips into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon, with spectacles on nose and pouch on side; his youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide for his shrunk shrank; and his manly voice, turning again toward childish treble, pipes and whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history, is second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything. Here Prince Prospero (also the name of a character in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”) chases the figure. Note the first room is on the east end of the abbey and the final death room is on the west end, mirroring the birth and death of the sun each day as though life is short.

Poe is also saying that no matter how rich one is and no matter what lengths one goes to avoid death, it is inevitable; just as he knew it was inevitable for his wife Virginia to die of tuberculosis that she contracted in 1842, the year this horror story was written.

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