09 October 2010

The Masquerade Ball: The Masque of the Red Death

The Masque of the Red Death, a Gothic tale by American writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) tells the story of Prince Prospero. The prince was a wealthy but selfish ruler who saw his dominion ravaged by the Red Death. Prospero retreats to a castle like abbey with a thousand knights and ladies selected from his court. While his subjects die outside, he and his inner circle feast and are amused by musicians, dancers, and clowns. The culmination of the festivities is a masquerade ball. Amidst the revelers dressed in alluring and grotesque costumes arrives the Red Death. English artist Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) who died an early death from tuberculosis, illustrated the costumed court. Later Irish Harry Clarke (1889–1931) who would also die prematurely of tuberculosis, depicted the actual Red Death. Masques were popular courtly entertainment in sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe. Elaborate costumes such as A Star were designed by British architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652) for the court of James I. Jones was influenced by his visits to the Medici Court which had extravagant fetes. There the Florentine stage designer and theater architect Bernardo Buontalenti (1531-1608) designed allegorical costumes like A Muse.


  1. The story is so timeless, and sadly current. It also makes me think of how at times America celebrates and parties, oblivious to what is going on in the rest of the world, believing it is untouchable by perils others face, until one visits.

    Thanks for another thoughtful post with beautiful illustrations.



  2. I just walked over to my bookcase to see if this was in my compilation of Tales and Poems of Poe, but sadly it wasn't. I'll look for it this week. A perfect read for the month of October. Thanks.

  3. Thank you Claudia and Catherine, I have been intrigued by Poe's work since I was a child. He lived a very tragic life but left us such pieces of truth and beauty. Kind regards, Kendra

  4. I have always been drawn to Beardsley,His is distinctive and full of drama in black and white. The story is indeed timely-as it always is with the world.

  5. Thanks PGT, I have loved Beardsley since I was a teenager and always see something fresh in his work. The red mask is a timeless story. Best, Kendra

  6. Leonard D Greco Jr12 November, 2010 18:54

    Love, love, love, particularly the flaming Star. The Red Death has always chilled me to the bone, one of my greatest dark pleasures, I MUST re-read, thanks as always!


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