Death claims the life of a young man. Illuminated image from a 15th-century French manuscript.

"The Masque of the Red Death" (originally published as "The Mask of the Red Death: A Fantasy") is a short story by the American horror author Edgar Allan Poe. It was first published in the May 1842 edition of Graham's Lady's and Gentleman's Magazine.

The story concerns the attempts by a prince and his followers to shield themselves from a terrible plague which is devastating the surrounding area and to carry on living lives of pleasure. Their attempts ultimately prove futile.

The story has been adapted for stage, screen and radio and has frequently been referenced in music and other works of literature. The best known adaptation of the story continues to be the 1964 film version of the story, directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price.


The Red Death is the name of an infectious disease which cuases people to die within thirty minutes. Those who are infected bleed profusely form their skin, especially their faces, before they die.

Half of Prince Prospero's subjects have died from the disease but the Prince, a man of unusual tastes whom some believe to be mad, is unconcerned. He believes that his home, a former abbey which has been converted into a fortress, will provide him with adequate protection from the plague and he invites a large number of knights and ladies to join him there. After Prince Prospero's guests have arrived, bolts on the abbey's doors are welded shut, making it impossible for anyone to get in or out. There is sufficient food and drink for the Prince's guest and musicians, dancers, actors and clowns to entertain them. For several months, the Prince and the other nobles continue to live happily inside the abbey, while people continue to die from the Red Death outside.

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The Red Death takes the life of Prince Prospero. 1935 illustration by the British artist Arthur Rackham.

Some six months after the arrival of Prince Prospero's guests, a masked ball is held for them. The ball takes place in a suite of seven rooms, each one of which is primarily decorated and furnished in one color. The first room is blue, the second is purple, the third is green, the fourth is orange, the fifth is white, the sixth is violet and the seventh is black. Each room has a stained glass window of the same color as its furnishings, except for the black room which has a window of scarlet glass. There are no candles or any lights inside any of the seven rooms, the only light comes from fires in braziers in the hallway. The effect of the firelight coming through the scarlet window into the black room is so frightening that very few of the Prince's guests dare enter it. The black room also contains an ebony clock which makes a strange and frightening sound every time it strikes the hour. Each time that the clock strikes, the musicians stop playing and the guests stop dancing. After it has finished striking, all of those present laugh at themselves for being frightened by a clock. However, they react in the same way again when the next hour strikes.

When the clock strikes midnight, the twelve chimes make everyone pause for a longer time. They suddenly notice someone that they had not seen until that moment. Although many of the guests are wearing costumes which might shock, horrify or disgust many people, everyone is offended by the masked figure which they have just noticed. His mask looks exactly like the face of someone who has died from the Red Death. Prince Prospero orders that the person be unmasked and hanged the following day but the masked figure continues to walk calmly and slowly through the suite of seven rooms. Prince Prospero draws a dagger and chases after him. Arriving in the black room, the Prince grabs the masked figure and immediately falls down dead. The other guest rush towards the figure. They take off his mask but find that there is no face behind it. They realize that they are in the presence of the Red Death itself. All of the guests die, the clock stops and the fires in the braziers go out.



The Phantom costumed as the Red Death in the 1925 movie The Phantom of the Opera.

Gaston Leroux's novel The Phantom of the Opera contains a chapter in which the Phantom crashes a masked ball at the Paris Opera House wearing a skull mask and an elaborate red costume with the words "I am the Red Death which passes" embroidered on it in gold. In the 1925 silent film adaptation of the novel, the scene in which the Phantom appears as the Red Death is the only scene which was filmed in Technicolor in an otherwise all black and white movie. The Phantom also appears costumed as the Red Death in the 1986 stage musical The Phantom of the Opera and its 2004 movie adaptation.

The Masque of the Red Death, a horror film based on Poe's story, was released in 1964. The movie was produced and directed by Roger Corman and stars Vincent Price as Prince Prospero. The British actresses Hazel Court and Jane Asher appear in supporting roles. Hazel Court plays Prince Prospero's mistress Juliana and Jane Asher plays Francesca, a peasant girl that Prince Prospero attempts to seduce. A sub-plot in the movie is based on "Hop-Frog", another short story by Poe. The dwarf jester, whose name is changed from Hop-Frog to Hop-Toad in the film, is played by Skip Martin.

A remake of the 1964 film, also produced by Roger Corman, was released in 1989. It was directed by Larry Brand and Jeffrey Delman. It stars the British actor Adrian Paul as Prince Prospero and features the British-born actor Patrick Macnee as the personified Red Death.

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1935 illustration for "The Masque of the Red Death" by the British artist Arthur Rackham.

The 2013 animated film Extraordinary Tales, directed by Raul Garcia and co-produced by production companies from Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain and the United States, is made up of five segments based on the Edgar Allan Poe stories "The Fall of the House of Usher", "The Tell-Tale Heart", "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar", "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Masque of the Red Death". Extraordinary Tales is the third film version of "The Masque of the Red Death" with which Roger Corman has been involved because he voices Prince Prospero in the segment based on the tale.

"The Masque of the Red Death" was adapted for American radio as an episode of CBS Radio Mystery Theatre, first broadcast on January 10, 1975, and as an episode of American Masters that first aired on NPR on October 29, 1996. The American Masters adaptation features music by the author and composer Winifred Phillips, who also narrates the story.

The play The Masque of the Red Death was written by members of the British theater group Punchdrunk. It was first performed at the Battersea Arts Centre in south-west London on September 17, 2007 and continued to be performed there until April 2008. The play involved audience participation and combined elements of contemporary dance and interpretive dance with traditional acting. in addition to "The Masque of the Red Death", the play also drew inspiration from the Edgar Allan Poe stories "Berenice", "The Black Cat", "The Cask of Amontillado", "The Fall of the House of Usher", "Ligeia", "The System of Doctor Tar and Professor Fether", "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "William Wilson".

Numerous picture book, comic book, graphic novel and manag-style adaptations of "The Masque of the Red Death" have been issued by publishers around the world.

Several different audiobook adaptations of "The Masque of the Red Death" have been released over the years. Those who have recorded readings of the story include the British actor Basil Rathbone, the British actor Christopher Lee, the Irish actor Gabriel Byrne and the American actor Hurd Hatfield (best known for playing the title character in the 1945 movie adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray).

"The Masque of the Red Death" and its 1964 film adaptation have also inspired numerous pieces of music, especially within the hard rock and heavy metal genres.

See also

  • Sound files of public domain audiobooks of "The Masque of the Red Death":

External links