The Red Masque of Death

by Professor Spellbinder

“The Masque of the Red Death” is a famous short story by Edgar Allen Poe written in 1842. Since our sťance illusion takes its name from the title of the story, you should read the story to know what it’s about, even though our illusion takes a somewhat different approach. A copy of that story is included with the article.

The Wizard, dressed in long robes of black or dark red velvet, takes his seat in the ornate throne-like chair at the sťance table. Those invited to sit at the table fill in the other seats around the table.

This scene can be presented on a stage for a much larger audience to watch, or in a parlor-like room where the only audience consists of those seated at the table.

To the right and left of the Wizard stand two apprentices, dressed in plain black monk-like robes, but decorated with symbols of wizardry and magik. Each has a curved scimitar in his belt, and each carries a large wooden staff. The Wizard holds out his hand and an apprentice hands him the Red Masque.

“This Masque was involved in a murder. It is stained red with the blood of its victim. Her name was Penelope, and she was a princess who lived long ago. It is dangerous to bring back the spirit of a person who has been murdered in the prime of life. They tend to be very angry spirits, hence the need for extra protection tonight, for I intend to summon her spirit to talk to us.”

In a louder voice, the Wizard asks the company to hold hands around the sťance circle. His own hands are held by the persons on his right and left.

“Do not let go. We must not let the demons of the night into our circle, so no matter how frightening this becomes, DO NOT LET GO. Keep the circle formed at all times.”

Pause. “We wish to speak to Princess Penelope of the house of Prospero.”

Pause. “During life, she lived in San Prospero in Italy. She was the sister of Prince Paolo Prospero. She died in 1798. We wish to speak to Princess Penelope of the house of Prospero.”

Suddenly he is interrupted by a young woman’s voice. She speaks with a heavy Italian accent. “Who seeks me? I am Princess Penelope of the domed house of Prospero from that cursed kingdom of San Prospero. Why can I not see you. Something is covering my face. Remove it at once!”

An apprentice steps forward to remove the red masque. He lays it on the table. We now see that the Wizard’s face has been replaced by the face of a young woman. She sees the masque on the table before her.

“That masque! Destroy it at once! It is cursed! It is because of the masque that my own brother murdered me! He did not recognize me.” She goes on to recount the story of her death at the hands of her brother.

At the end of her story, the woman’s face is transformed with blood coming from her eyes and the sides of her mouth, and red pock marks over her cheeks and brow. At this, the apprentice returns the masque to the face of the young woman and we hear her parting words through the masque:

“My brother had murdered me, his own sister, and all the party guests with his horrible jest. If you want to hear the story from him, you will have to open the gates of hell, for that’s where you will find him!”

The Wizard’s voice returns to him just in time. “No! Do not venture into hell! Turn up the lights and end the sťance!”

The apprentices turn up the lights and remove the masque to reveal that the Wizard’s face has returned to his body. He rises and concludes the sťance quickly.

How to accomplish this in a parlor or on a stage is explained within the article, along with the full text of the script used.

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