Mask of Life and Death

March 30, 2019 by Essay Writer

Edgar Allen Poe created an interesting paradigm surrounding his theory on cosmic principle. He sees the universe as God’s artistic creation dispersed among humankind. Artists, namely poets, bring together the universe by breaking free of their physical world and its correlating corruption and materialism. To do this, poets must use their imagination and delve deep into their minds to find the universe’s original harmony. Poe’s theory goes on to describe mankind’s dualistic nature, where man is both spiritual and rational. The spiritual side draws on imagination, emotion, and creativity while the rational side remains terrestrial and distant from cosmic unity. Ultimately, poets can regain unity with the universe only through death. In Poe’s “The Masque of Red Death,” Prince Prospero attempts to rid himself of the Red Death by retreating into his mind. Prospero represents the spiritualistic side of the poet, and Red Death represents the earthbound rationality of life. Prospero represents the spiritual mind of his character. Poe describes the spiritual poet as someone who seeks to rid himself of his materialistic reality by “looking inward to the depths of his mind” (Poe’s Cosmology). Additionally, Prospero attempts to “free himself from time, reason, [and] the physical world” (Poe’s Cosmology). The dualistic poet creates his own reality – free of unpredictability, danger, or death – and utilizes his imagination, creativity, and emotions to become closer to the “harmony of the universe” (Poe’s Cosmology). In “The Masque of Red Death,” Red Death represents the experiences of life, and does so by creating a “voluptuous scene” (Poe 62). To escape the Red Death plague, Prospero withdraws “to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys” and seals himself in with “gates of iron” (Poe 62). Prospero’s retreat is “bold and fiery” and filled with “much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, [and] much of the bizarre” (Poe 64). Prospero reconstructs a world within the abbey, where a “multitude of dreams…writhe(d) in and about,” floating around like the “wild music of the orchestra” (Poe 64). Prospero isolates himself into a world of emotion and imagery to escape his own profane physical surroundings, and thus Prospero creates an imaginary world of phantasmagoric surroundings inside the walls of the abbey. According to the concept of dualism, a poet surrounds himself with his own creativity and beauty to escape harsher reality. Likewise, Prospero surrounds himself with beautiful scenes and bizarre dreams in order to both escape the ugly reality of life and bar his physicality – represented by Red Death – from his mind. Just as Prospero represents the spiritual side of the dualistic poet, Red Death represents the earthbound rationality of life. Poe describes this side of the dualistic poet as possessing “rational knowledge” and characterizes it as “sick, dark, and insensitive” (Poe’s Cosmology). This rational side can be seen as a series of inevitable constants: despair, pain, materialism, and death. In “The Masque of Red Death,” the fatal “Red Death” rampages Prospero’s country and infects people with “sharp pains…profuse bleeding… [and] seizure” (Poe 62). Prospero attempts to shut the plague out of his life, but at his grand party, the “presence of a masked figure” appears; “Neither wit or propriety exist(ed)” in this figure, dressed “in the habiliments of the grave” (Poe 65). Red Death lacks any “tangible form” and comes “like a thief in the night” for those who “shut him out” (Poe 66, 62). Prospero tries to attack Red Death, but he dies before he can even lay a hand on the impostor. Red Death – comprised of despair, pain, and death – symbolizes the rational side of Prospero as a dualistic poet. Furthermore, if Prospero is trying to escape the rational aspects of life, then he is trying essentially to escape life itself. Thus, Red Death also represents life in its entirety and as such, cannot be altogether eliminated or ignored. It is then ironic that Prospero causes his own downfall to death by trying to separate his mind from life. According to Poe’s theory of dualism, Prospero represents the spiritualistic side of the poet, and Red Death represents the earthbound rationality of life. Poe dealt with unhappiness in his own life when the only women he ever loved died young. Conversely, Prospero deals with the inevitability of death in “The Masque of Red Death” by trying to run away from it. By attempting to separate his spiritual side from his rational side, Prospero’s persona dies and only then becomes unified with the universe.

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