Historical Context in The Cask of Amontillado
"The Cask of Amontillado" incorporates Carnival and the Freemasons, both of which would have been widely known to Poe’s audience, in order to advance Montresor’s plans for revenge.
The Freemasons are an international, fraternal society that was established to support its members’ moral and spiritual values. The group has been historically composed of extremely wealthy men and engaged in secret rituals. During Poe’s time, the group was considered sacrilegious.
Carnival is the massive public celebration before Catholic Lent that consists of parades, circuses, elaborate costumes, and excessive consumption of alcohol, meats, and other indulgences restricted by Lent. People often wear masks to conceal their identities and create a greater sense of social unity.
Both of these historical points allow Poe to tell his story. First, Carnival creates a chaotic setting where no one would notice Montresor leading Fortunato into the catacombs. Second, in making Fortunato a Freemason, Poe implies that Fortunato is an unlikable character.
Historical Context Examples in The Cask of Amontillado:
The Cask of Amontillado
"Austrian..." See in text (The Cask of Amontillado)
A very important country at the time “The Cask of Amontillado” was written, Austria was landlocked and bordered by Italy on the south. Much valuable merchandise would travel to Vienna through Venice, situated on the Adriatic and the closest large port.
"But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, ..." See in text (The Cask of Amontillado)
A pipe is a barrel containing 126 gallons of wine, or 500 quart bottles. Montresor would not buy so much sweetish gourmet sherry wine for personal consumption. This strongly suggests that he supposedly bought the pipe for resale and that he makes his living buying and selling valuable things when opportunities arise. It further suggests that Fortunato is a sometime competitor and sometime business associate. Both men may think of themselves as aristocrats, and there were many aristocrats in Venice who made such livings on relatively precarious enterprises.
"you are happy, as once I was..." See in text (The Cask of Amontillado)
Poe, like his character Montresor, knew what it was to fall on hard times. After a falling out with his wealthy foster father, Poe lost his high social status, and suffered from chronic financial troubles—as well as alcoholism—for the rest of his life. A quarrel Poe had with two other poets may also have inspired his tale of revenge.
"the brotherhood..." See in text (The Cask of Amontillado)
Poe alludes here to the Masons, a fraternal organization which was widely considered sacrilegious during his time. By making Fortunato a Mason, Poe taps into the then-widespread sentiment against the group, as well as further illustrates Fortunato’s sense of superiority to Montresor.
"the carnival season..." See in text (The Cask of Amontillado)
In Catholic countries such as Italy and France, this is the period just before Lent when everyone celebrates to excess. Part of the celebration is to wear costumes that hide one's identity—a perfect time for Montresor to go unnoticed. The carnival season identifies the setting as Venice, whose carnival is world-famous and still attracts hordes of tourists.