Allegory in "The Masque of the Red Death"

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The Masque of the Red Death Allegory

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Activity Overview


When studying allegorical texts, it is important that students understand the concept as a foundation for the reading. An allegory is like an extended metaphor, where elements of the story are symbolic of a deeper meaning. Since allegories are works that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning (usually moral or political), it is important that students engage not only with the surface details, but with this deeper level as well.

In “The Masque of the Red Death”, Poe uses the allegory of Prospero’s actions to make a strong point: no one escapes death. Prospero thought he could cheat death by inviting all the wealthy people in his kingdom to the safety of his castle. He was segregating the wealthy from the peasantry to avoid death from the plague. The reader soon realizes that any attempt to escape death is futile, even for a wealthy prince like Prospero.

As an extension lesson, ask students to create a storyboard that show multiple ways that Prospero tried to escape death!

Examples of Allegory: Red Death

Barricaded Castle An important principal of death which Poe addresses is Prospero's hubris in thinking that through his power he could escape death. However, there is an equality in the face of death; it attacks everyone, rich and poor alike. Prospero may think that a physical barricade may save him, but death can infiltrate any place.
The Masquerade Ball The masquerade ball this exhibits Prospero’s attempt to ‘mask’ or hide from death. Using his money to throw a ball literally represents his attempt to hide from death with a costume, and also his attempt to distract himself from the reality of death. Despite these efforts, the clock strikes always interrupt the party, reminding the guests of their mortality, and, in the end, Death, masquerading as one of his victims, appears at the ball in person.
The Confrontation When the mysterious guest refuses to unmask himself, Prospero confronts him and pursues the stranger through the seven chambers, dagger drawn. With these actions, Prospero is literally trying to kill Death. Instead, his pursuit carries him through the decorated chambers (representing the stages of life) and he corners Death in the final room. There he falls dead. Death cannot be defeated with a weapon, and Prospero’s efforts to kill him have only sped him to the inevitable fate he was seeking to overcome.


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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows examples of allegory in "The Masque of the Red Death".


  1. Identify instances of allegory in the text.
  2. Depict and describe the example of allegory from the text on the left side.
  3. Depict and describe the reference to the larger issue or event on the right side.
Allegorical Reference - Worksheet

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