The Masque of the Red Death
by Edgar Allan Poe
The Masque of the Red Death Foolishness and Folly Quotes
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It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence. (3)
Prince Prospero's most lavish celebration of life occurs just when the Red Death is raging "most furiously" abroad. It' s almost as if he's deliberately – and foolishly – tempting fate.
But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of sixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies,) there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before. (5)
The dancers and musicians dismiss as "folly" their nervousness at the chiming of the clock. There are two levels as to what's going on here. On the surface, it might seem silly to get jumpy on account of a clock – they're right to laugh it off. But on a more symbolic level, the clock represents death. What they're trying to laugh off as foolishness is their own fear of death, which makes them foolish. It's telling that, in spite of themselves, the partiers are not able to control their own nerves.
And now again the music swells, and the dreams live, and writhe to and fro more merrily than ever, taking hue from the many-tinted windows through which stream the rays from the tripods. (7)
After the clock makes everyone nervously stop in their tracks, they always go right back to what they're doing. Right back to the drunken pleasures of life, in other words. The image seems symbolic of their refusal to take death seriously.