Masking Fear: A Focus on Setting in Poe's "Masque of the Red Death"

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SWBAT analyze how Poe's central character, Prince Prospero, portrays the elements of Gothic literature through mapping a setting reflecting his character.

Big Idea

The setting of "Masque of the Red Death" reflects the themes of the piece: time is fleeting, madness takes its toll.

Intro & Welcome: Happy 85th Birthday to Micky Mouse

5 minutes

I greet students at the door and hand each of them a copy of the activity and questions for Poe's "Masque of the Red Death."

At the bell, I welcome students to class with birthday wishes to Mickey Mouse, Disney's "Steamboat Willie" debuted on this day 85 years ago. While we will not watch the video in class, I do mention for those Disney fans, animation students, and history buffs, it is available on YouTube. ("Steamboat Willie" has been made available courtesy of Disney Animation)

We transition into the delayed "Friday Favorite" class vote, and I ask students their favorite pizza toppings: 

I then set up the day: we'll watch "The Simpson's 'The Raven'" from the original "Treehouse of Horror" episode, and then move to small groups to identify the setting of, and discuss, Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death." I remind students the PowerPoint slides for "The Raven"are due the following day. 


Visualizing "The Raven"

10 minutes

In 1990, "The Simpsons" aired a special Halloween episode, entitled "Treehouse of Horror"; it featured an adaptation of Poe's "The Raven," and although comic, presents an accurate representation of the story within the poem. I show this in class*; as I've noted, I ask students to have the poem out as well as a reference. This third presentation of the poem allows students to now hear a reading of the poem by James Earl Jones, accompanied by the characters acting out the story; with their own reading, the audio version of the poem, and this version, students to analyze the representation of a the raven itself and Poe's diction in different artistic media via a short, in-class discussion comparing their own impressions with the other two (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.7). 

We are holding a short, informal discussion, partially to give students the opportunity to respond to the poem itself, and partially to refresh the sounds and style of Poe's writing before we tackle "The Masque of the Red Death" today. 

*The "Treehouse of Horror" episode is available on Amazon Instant Video, or the Season Two Boxed set. 

Understanding Setting: Mapping the Madness of Prospero's Palace

30 minutes

I then ask students to turn to "The Masque of the Red Death", and read the first paragraph. I ask the students what is being described (a plague), and how many of them are familiar with the bubonic plague, or "Black Death"? In order to give more background on the Black death, I show this parody video. I chose the parody of "Hollaback Girl," because its rhythm and repetition make it quite memorable, illustrating the use of rhythm and repetition we have been addressing in our look at Romantic poetry, both Fireside and Gothic. As I joke with the students, it's an "ear worm," and they'll be singing "Fleas on rats, fleas on rats" for the next three days. But, they're remember parallelism and repetition while they do. We look back at the description of the "Red Death," and I ask students what the symptoms and effect of Poe's plague are (sharp pain, dizziness, bleeding, and death) and how quickly the plague affects its victims (half an hour). All of this is done orally to refresh the students' memory and engage them as we share the vivid description. 

I ask students to number off into groups of three to address the small group activity. I chose groups of three in order for students to be able to collaborate, and focus effectively. One student can be drawing the setting, one student can be adding in the appropriate color, and one student can be cross-checking the details in the story. Additionally, when students begin discussing the questions, there are three minds to draw conclusions from; I have found that in more "open" assignments such as this one, in contrast where each group member has specific roles, four or more students allows for easy distraction. I "randomized" groups by numbering off in order to ensure students would collaborate with a variety of their peers, not solely their friends. Students then move to their groups, read the directions, and begin the assignment. I have provided markers and colored pencils for the students to mimic the colors Poe describes. 

Students are instructed to begin the "map" of Prince Prospero's apartments first, in order to analyze specific details of setting. I direct students to focus on the fourth paragraph (I give the lines from our text) in order to find a description of the setting.  I provide the picture of the Gothic window in today's lesson image to give the students an idea what they might look like. As the assignment continues, students will analyze how those details reflect the character of Prince Prospero (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.2); in turn, students will analyze how Prince Prospero's complexity and "eccentricity" advance the themes and Gothic elements of the story (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.3), and ultimately how his madness led him to believe he could escape death. By focusing on the map part first, I can gauge students' understanding of reading in a specific passage. 

Coming to a consensus on their design of Prospero's apartments and on the review questions requires the students to respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives and justify their understanding when new the evidence and reasoning of the setting is presented (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1d).

Students to each take notes on these things, but to prepare one example of their setting map and answers to turn in. (Small-Group Design #1Small-Group Design #2).

Students should be able to complete a draft of the map in class today. I will provide them time tomorrow to both complete the final map, as well as hold their discussion on the questions, in class tomorrow. 

Two (Well, Five) Minute Warning: Wrap Up & Extension

5 minutes

With five minutes remaining in the period, I as for students' attentions. I remind them that they will have time to complete this assignment tomorrow. For homework, students are to prepare the questions assigned for discussion tomorrow (as always, homework assignments are posted on the classroom whiteboard.) I then ask students to return their markers and colored pencils to the bins in the room, and return their desks to rows. The extra time at the end to class is to account for this transition.