The Masque of the Red Death

By Edgar Poe

The “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No
pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was
its Avatar and its seal—the redness and the horror of blood.
There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then
profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet
stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the
victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid
and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole
seizure, progress, and termination of the disease, were the
incidents of half an hour.

But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and
sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, 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. This was an extensive and magnificent
structure, the creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet
august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall
had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought
furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They
resolved to leave means neither of ingress nor egress to the
sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The
abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the
courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world
could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to
grieve, or to think. 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. All these and
security were within. Without was the “Red Death.”

It was towards 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.

It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let
me tell of the rooms in which it was held. These were
seven—an imperial suite. In many palaces, however, such
suites form a long and straight vista, while the folding doors
slide back nearly to the walls on either hand, so that the view
of the whole extent is scarcely impeded. Here the case was
very different, as might have been expected from the duke’s
love of the bizarre. The apartments were so irregularly
disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at
a time. There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty
yards, and at each turn a novel effect. To the right and left, in
the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window
looked out upon a closed corridor which pursued the
windings of the suite. These windows were of stained glass
whose color varied in accordance with the prevailing hue of
the decorations of the chamber into which it opened. That at
the eastern extremity was hung, for example, in blue—and
vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber was
purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes
were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were
the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted with
orange—the fifth with white—the sixth with violet. The
seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet
tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls,
falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and
hue. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows
failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here
were scarlet—a deep blood color. Now in no one of the
seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid
the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and
fro or depended from the roof. There was no light of any
kind emanating from lamp or candle within the suite of
chambers. But in the corridors that followed the suite, there
stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod, bearing a
brazier of fire, that projected its rays through the tinted glass
and so glaringly illumined the room. And thus were
produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances.
But in the western or black chamber the effect of the firelight that streamed upon the dark hangings through the
blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and produced
so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered,
that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot
within its precincts at all.

It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against
the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum
swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and
when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the
hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of
the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and
exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis
that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra
were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their
performance, to hearken to the sound; and thus the waltzers
perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief
disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes
of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew
pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over
their brows as if in confused revery or meditation. But when
the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded
the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled
as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made
whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of
the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and
then, after the lapse of sixty minutes (which embrace three
thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies),
there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were
the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as

But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel. The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye for colors and effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There are some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be
sure that he was not.

He had directed, in great part, the movable embellishments of the seven chambers, upon occasion of this great fête; and it was his own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm—much of what has been since seen in “Hernani.”
There were arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There were much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these—the dreams—writhed in
and about, taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild
music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps.
And, anon, there strikes the ebony clock which stands in the
hall of the velvet. And then, for a moment, all is still, and all
is silent save the voice of the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand. But the echoes of the chime die away—
they have endured but an instant—and a light, half-subdued
laughter floats after them as they depart. And now again the
music swells, and the dreams live, and writhe to and fro
more merrily than ever, taking hue from the many-tinted
windows through which stream the rays from the tripods.
But to the chamber which lies most westwardly of the seven,
there are now none of the maskers who venture; for the night
is waning away; and there flows a ruddier light through the
blood-colored panes; and the blackness of the sable drapery
appalls; and to him whose foot falls upon the sable carpet,
there comes from the near clock of ebony a muffled peal
more solemnly emphatic than any which reaches their ears who indulge in the more remote gaieties of the other apartments.

But these other apartments were densely crowded, and
in them beat feverishly the heart of life. And the revel went
whirlingly on, until at length there commenced the sounding
of midnight upon the clock. And then the music ceased, as I
have told; and the evolutions of the waltzers were quieted;
and there was an uneasy cessation of all things as before. But
now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of
the clock; and thus it happened, perhaps, that more of
thought crept, with more of time, into the meditations of the
thoughtful among those who revelled. And thus too, it
happened, perhaps, that before the last echoes of the last
chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many
individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become
aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested
the attention of no single individual before. And the rumor of
this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around,
there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or
murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise—then,
finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust.

In an assembly of phantasms such as I have painted, it
may well be supposed that no ordinary appearance could
have excited such sensation. In truth the masquerade license
of the night was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question
had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the bounds of
even the prince’s indefinite decorum. There are chords in the
hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without
emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death
are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be
made. The whole company, indeed, seemed now deeply to
feel that in the costume and bearing of the stranger neither
wit nor propriety existed. The figure was tall and gaunt, and
shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave.
The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to
resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the
closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the
cheat. And yet all this might have been endured, if not
approved, by the mad revellers around. But the mummer had
gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His
vesture was dabbled in blood—and his broad brow, with all
the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet

When the eyes of the Prince Prospero fell upon this
spectral image (which, with a slow and solemn movement, as
if more fully to sustain its role, stalked to and fro among the
waltzers) he was seen to be convulsed, in the first moment
with a strong shudder either of terror or distaste; but, in the
next, his brow reddened with rage.

“Who dares”—he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers
who stood near him—“who dares insult us with this
blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him—that we
may know whom we have to hang, at sunrise, from the

It was in the eastern or blue chamber in which stood the
Prince Prospero as he uttered these words. They rang
throughout the seven rooms loudly and clearly, for the prince
was a bold and robust man, and the music had become
hushed at the waving of his hand.

It was in the blue room where stood the prince, with a
group of pale courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, there
was a slight rushing movement of this group in the direction
of the intruder, who, at the moment was also near at hand,
and now, with deliberate and stately step, made closer
approach to the speaker. But from a certain nameless awe
with which the mad assumptions of the mummer had
inspired the whole party, there were found none who put
forth hand to seize him; so that, unimpeded, he passed within
a yard of the prince’s person; and, while the vast assembly,
as if with one impulse, shrank from the centres of the rooms
to the walls, he made his way uninterruptedly, but with the
same solemn and measured step which had distinguished
him from the first, through the blue chamber to the purple—
through the purple to the green—through the green to the
orange—through this again to the white—and even thence to
the violet, ere a decided movement had been made to arrest
him. It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero,
maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentary
cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while
none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had
seized upon all. He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had
approached, in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet
of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the
extremity of the velvet apartment, turned suddenly and
confronted his pursuer. There was a sharp cry—and the
dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which,
instantly afterward, fell prostrate in death the Prince
Prospero. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a
throng of the revellers at once threw themselves into the
black apartment, and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure
stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony
clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave
cerements and corpse-like mask, which they handled with so
violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form.

And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red
Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one
dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their
revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And
the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of
the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness
and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over