This story is pure allegory, and universally applicable. The Masque of the Red Death is always occurring somewhere, because somewhere, always, there is an empire about to topple, dancing its final mad debauched dance in a vampiric centre, as turmoil and death crowds in from an exploited periphery. It’s happening now, out in the world. “Voluptuous” walled-in masquerades conducted by collective entities embodied by Poe’s dreadful Duke, whose “plans were bold and fiery”, whose “conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre”. But great walls, ditches and fences will not keep out the monstrous ghostly forces that such systems ultimately necessitate. And, as sure as sunset, one by one, the dancers will drop “in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel”. Poe’s allegory, however, will never die.
First published in Graham’s Magazine, 1842. Collected in Selected Tales, Oxford University Press, 2008, and available online here