Analysis Pages

Vocabulary in The Masque of the Red Death

Vocabulary Examples in The Masque of the Red Death:

The Masque of the Red Death

🔒 23

"blood-bedewed halls..."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The verb “bedewed” means to sprinkle something with drops of liquid. For the walls to be “blood bedewed” means that they are spattered with drops of blood. The visual image of blood-speckled halls recalls the symptoms of the Red Death described in the opening lines, where the “scarlet stains” marked the pores and faces of the infected. For the blood to have transferred to the “halls” speaks to the massive scale and violent nature of the deaths of Prospero’s friends.

"fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero...."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The word “prostrate” refers to the state of lying facedown on the ground, particularly in reverence or submission to a deity or person of higher rank. The visual image evoked here is that of Prospero lying face-down at the feet of the masked figure, who “turned suddenly and confronted [Prospero].” By falling “prostrate,” Prospero has been forced to submit to death both literally and figuratively.

"“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 battlements!”..."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The adjective “blasphemous” refers to something that is profane and violates religious doctrine, specifically Christian. For Prospero to call the costume a “blasphemous mockery” is hypocritical, considering the biblical verse in Hebrews 9:27: “and as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” In Christian theology, all mortal things must die in order to obtain salvation in the afterlife. By defying death, Prospero proves himself the true blasphemer. Notice the additional hypocrisy in that the punishment for dressing up as the Red Death is a death sentence. Prospero is willing to condemn someone else to the fate he seeks to defy for daring to confront him with the reality of the Red Death.

"spectral image..."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The adjective “spectral” refers to something that is ghostlike or incorporeal. Rather than the more figurative description of Prospero and his friends as “phantasms,” the masked figure seems to be more literally spectral in nature as it acts out its gruesome costume. The audacious nature of its costume and its sudden appearance at the masquerade combine to make it a seemingly inhuman and supernatural entity.

"mummer..."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The noun “mummer” refers to an actor, typically amateur, who performed in masked plays or pantomimes. Mummers often performed for the poor in exchange for food or drink, especially around the holidays. Though masquerades were more for the nobility and mummers plays were more for the common people, the concepts stem from the shared desire to escape social conventions by acting out a different persona. The masked figure is likely referred to as a “mummer” because it is silent and because it appears to be acting out its costume. It may also be a way of degrading the figure for its poor taste.

"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...."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The noun “habiliment” means clothing, specifically clothes worn as part of a uniform or for a specific occasion. The “habiliments of the grave” refer to the clothes or the shroud that a corpse was buried in. To be “gaunt” is to be lean and grim in appearance, often in reference to someone who is ill. This description of the masked figure evokes a visual image of the Grim Reaper, often depicted as a skeleton or corpse shrouded in the “habiliments of the grave.” The “terror, horror, and disgust” that the figure has inspired in the masqueraders stems from the fact that it is a physical embodiment, an avatar, of what they sought to avoid: the Red Death.

"beat feverishly the heart of life...."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The adverb “feverishly” refers to something done in a wildly energetic manner. For a heart to beat feverishly implies that the heart rate is accelerated. An accelerated heart rate is often associated with fear or exertion, and the exertion of maintaining the illusion of gaiety provides a potential cause. If one views life and death as continuities of one another, then “the heart of life” has been fighting against itself by refusing death. Rather than beating strongly and healthily, it is overworked and “feverish,” indicating that denial and fear have taken a toll on Prospero and his friends.

"the dreams live..."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

“Dreams” refer to either thoughts and images that occur during sleep or to cherished ideals or ambitions. The “dreams” at the masquerade occupy both definitions. By one reading, they represent Prospero's desire to escape death. By another, Prospero and his friends are living in a daydream, imagining themselves as separate from the realities of death and decay.

"phantasm..."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The noun “phantasm” refers to an apparition, ghost, illusion, or sensory deception. In this case, these meanings enhance the dream-like quality of the masquerade. Reading phantasm as ghost implies that the masqueraders are not grounded in reality but are instead caught in limbo between the reality of death and their desire to escape it. By reading phantasm as illusion, the entire masquerade becomes a farce. The illusion is twofold: the revelers are projecting the illusion of gaiety despite their fear, and the masquerade itself is an illusion conjured by Prospero to combat the reality of death.

"piquancy..."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The noun “piquancy” refers to the quality of being pleasantly stimulating or intriguing. For wealthy people in the 18th and 19th centuries, masquerades were piquant because they provided the opportunity to escape the rigid social conventions of the nobility. For Prospero and his friends, morbid or scandalous costumes, lavish decorations, and a night of drinking and revelry would have helped stave off the “impulses of despair and frenzy” that the gates of the castle were sealed to prevent.

"Be sure they were grotesque...."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The adjective “grotesque” typically refers to something that is repulsive or ugly. It can also refer to something that is shockingly excessive or inappropriate, such as a grotesque display of wealth. Building off of the “barbaric lustre” of Prospero’s artistic vision, the costumes and masks worn by his friends are similarly grotesque. Traditional 19th-century masquerades were events of excess, full of drinking, gambling, and sex. Creativity and wit were highly encouraged when it came to designing the opulent costumes. Both of the meanings of grotesque likely come into play when describing this scene; the costumes were both lavish and designed to evoke controversial reactions.

"barbaric lustre...."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The phrase “barbaric lustre” contains a contradiction. The noun “lustre” refers to a soft glow and suggests a sense of sophistication. By contrast, the adjective “barbaric” refers to something harsh and unrefined. For Prospero’s designs to glow with “barbaric lustre” means that they have an aggressive and uncultured appeal. This description is consistent with Prospero’s colorful rooms, which produce a variety of “gaudy and fantastic” images. It also further situates him as someone who has artistic vision and also as someone who is at least somewhat mad.

"the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie..."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

A “reverie” is a daydream, typically a pleasant one removed from the stresses of reality. Prospero’s castle, with its willful ignorance of the outside world, is like a daydream. Prospero and his companions can pretend that death does not exist and instead enjoy the luxuries of their health and riches. The clock intrudes on their collective “reverie,” a physical testament to time’s passage and the encroachment of death. The “more aged and sedate” masqueraders likely feel the impact of the passage of time more strongly than the young and lively, thus their confusion as the reality of time’s passage collides with the daydream that Prospero has created.

"shrouded..."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The verb “to shroud” means to cover or envelop something. It is most commonly used to refer to the act of wrapping a corpse for burial. The visual imagery in the description of the black room is heavy and oppressive, with phrases like “shrouded” and “falling in heavy folds” adding a sense of weight. Furthermore, the carpet and the ceiling being the same color gives the sense of darkness enclosing all sides. Overall, the visual imagery evokes the idea of being buried in a coffin, which were often lined with dark fabrics.

"a novel effect...."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The adjective “novel” refers to something that is new or interesting. In such an insulated community, novelty would likely be hard to come by. Prospero designs the party in such a way that there are new, distracting novelties at every turn, keeping his companions lighthearted and happy. This display of creativity speaks to Prospero’s artistic sensibility and “august taste” as he creates an interactive art installation designed to capture the imaginations of his guests.

"voluptuous scene..."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The adjective “voluptuous” means that something is characterized by luxury and decadence. Masquerades in 17th-century Europe were characterized by escapism; the costumes were a way of altering one’s reality. Things like gender, sexuality, and class were blurred by luxury and anonymity. For Prospero and his friends, the masquerade is yet another way to stave off the reality of death. Rather than dwell on mortality, they can indulge in opulent festivities and shirk off their humanity by putting on masks.

"were the pest ban..."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

In describing the symptoms of the Red Death's victims, the narrator states that they serve as "the pest ban." The term "pest" here is likely a shortening of "pestilence," or "disease," and "ban" refers to a prohibition. In effect, the narrator says that the symptoms of the Red Death are so obvious that anyone can see the affected and keep their distance.

"eccentric yet august taste...."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The adjective “august” means respected or impressive and is derived from the Latin augustus, which means "venerated." This once obscure term became well known in 27 BCE when Julius Caesar’s adopted son Octavius adopted the title, becoming the first Emperor of the Roman Empire. Augustus unified the Roman government under his own rule and left a lasting legacy of peace and prosperity. His rule was viewed as blessed and he was deified after his death, symbolically defying mortality to join the pantheon of immortal gods. For Prospero to have “august” taste indicates that he is respected by his people, despite his eccentricity.

"castellated..."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The adjective “castellated” refers to a structure with battlements, or slots that arrows can be shot through. A “castellated abbey” conjures images of a fortress, an idea reinforced by the inclusion of the guard walls and gates. Superficially, the fortress is designed to keep the plague out. However, no amount of arrows can defend against a disease, indicating that perhaps the fortress also acts as a barrier between the wealthy courtiers and the less privileged masses seeking refuge. This emphasis on class division highlights the arrogance of Prospero and his friends, who believe that they can use wealth to protect themselves from the Red Death.

"happy and dauntless and sagacious...."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The adjective “dauntless” means fearless, and the adjective “sagacious” means to be wise or have good judgement. The introduction of Prince Prospero shifts the tone of the story away from the hopelessness and fear of the introduction. Rather than give up, Prince Prospero takes action: he secludes himself and his wealthy friends inside a castle, leaving the rest of the world to fend for itself. This action suggests that Prospero seeks to protect only those whom he prefers and that he uses his wealth and status to avoid the same fate as the less privileged.

"blood..."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

In addition to its more literal definition, “blood” can refer to the idea of family bloodlines. The idea of a “pestilence” transmitted through bloodlines becomes a potential criticism of the moral failings of the nobility, who tend to emphasize the importance of family lines and perpetuate classism.

"Blood was its Avatar and its seal..."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The noun “Avatar” refers to the physical manifestation of something, often an idea or deity. The Red Death manifests in and uses the blood to “seal” itself to the body. The result is that blood, despite being natural and vital to life, becomes a source of fear. This description serves to estrange the physical body by casting it as an uncontrollable source of anxiety rather than a comfortable constant, enhancing the horror elements of the story.

"pestilence..."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The noun “pestilence” typically refers to a fatal epidemic or plague, but it can also refer to corruption and moral decay. By the former definition, the Red Death is presented as a gruesome and deadly disease, eclipsing the worst plagues in history with its destructive power. However, the latter definition provides a different potential reading of the story: the “pestilence” is not only the disease but also the moral climate of the unspecified country.

Analysis Pages