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Edgar Allan Poe

A Dark Romantic Tale of Revenge, Deceit, and Murder

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13 Min.

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The Cask of Amontillado is a chilling short story by Edgar Allan Poe. It delves into the mind of a vengeful protagonist named Montresor, who seeks to punish his perceived enemy in a twisted and disturbing manner.

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    A subterranean tale of vengeance and murder

    The Cask of Amontillado is a story about revenge. We know this from its first line where the tale’s narrator, the Venetian nobleman Montresor, plainly states that he has been wronged and insulted by a certain Fortunato. Unwilling to submit to any more of Fortunato’s insults, he declares: “I vowed revenge”. As a result of this startling disclosure at the story’s opening we, the readers, are much better informed of Montresor’s true motivations than Fortunato himself is. What we don’t know is what kind of vengeance Montresor has in mind or how, exactly, he intends to pull it off. The story’s morbid pleasure lies in the gradual unfolding of Montresor’s carefully laid plans.

    Montresor approaches Fortunato on the street, as dusk is beginning to fall and Carnival is in full swing. Since medieval times, the Italian city of Venice has celebrated Carnival in the days before Lent. Venetians take to the streets in costumes and distinctive masks and it's said that, in this disguise, they sometimes forget their inhibitions. 

    Montresor is dressed in a black silk mask. He finds Fortunato in the center of the merrymaking, dressed in the multicolored costume of a court jester complete with cap and bells. But Montresor tempts Fortunato away from the crowd with an invitation he cannot refuse. Montresor has purchased a cask of what he believes to be fine Spanish amontillado sherry, but he can’t be sure it’s genuine. Fortunato fancies himself a connoisseur of fine wine, and very much enjoys drinking it – in fact, when Montresor meets him, he is already tipsy. 

    Having piqued Fortunato’s interest in the amontillado, Montresor now plays at dissuading Fortunato from coming to taste it. But Fortunato is determined to come. Montresor protests repeatedly – Fortunato is busy socializing; the damp vault where the sherry is stored will aggravate Fortunato’s health troubles. But each protestation is met with even more enthusiasm from Fortunato. Of course, this is exactly what Montresor was expecting.

    Montresor leads Fortunato to his palazzo. As the two men descend into the damp vaults beneath the house where the wine is stored, it becomes clear just how precisely Montresor has prepared his revenge. He has dismissed all his servants for the night, and is confident none will return from the carnival festivities until the next morning. The two men are completely alone in the house. The conditions are perfect for Montresor to take his revenge undetected. What shape that revenge will take remains unclear. 

    Together, the men descend below the palazzo into a maze of cavernous tunnels that Montresor, in his narration, alternately refers to as the family vaults and the family catacombs. A catacomb is a subterranean cemetery with recesses built into the walls where corpses can be entombed. More than just a place where wine is stored, the tunnels beneath the palazzo are where generations of Montresor’s family have been buried. And while we, the reader, are still no closer to knowing what revenge Montresor intends to inflict on his companion, a throwaway line offers a possible insight into Montresor’s motives. Fortunato remarks on how extensive the vaults are, and Montresor replies – note the past tense – that the Montresors ‘were a great and numerous family’. He also mentions the family motto, nemo me impune lacessit, meaning ‘no-one attacks me with impunity.’ Perhaps, then, Fortunato has attacked Montresor’s family honor.

    The two men keep walking into the vaults. As they continue, Fortunato’s sensitive lungs become aggravated by the damp surroundings and the deposits of nitre – i.e. potassium nitrate – on the walls. What’s more, Montresor keeps offering Fortunato flasks of fine wine to drink from, which he accepts enthusiastically. As they move deeper into the vaults, the drunken, coughing, wheezing Fortunato, in contrast to his name, begins to seem more and more unfortunate. 

    When the men have nearly reached their destination, Fortunato startles Montresor by making a distinctive hand sign. Montresor can see that Fortunato’s gesture is laden with meaning, but he doesn’t understand it. Fortunato explains that it is a gesture used between members of the secret society known as the masons. He asks if Montresor is also a mason, and Montresor responds by showing Fortunato the trowel concealed beneath his robes, as if to say that he is indeed a mason – a stonemason. Now, Fortunato is baffled – for while he laughs at what he takes to be his companion’s joke, Montresor is quite serious. Just how serious we will soon find out.

    Montresor leads poor Fortunato – who is still swigging wine and cracking jokes – into a crypt where human bones hang from three of the four walls. On the fourth wall, there is a recess where Montresor says the amontillado is stored. But when Fortunato moves into the recess to grasp the amontillado, Montresor swiftly chains him to a rock. Fortunato is perplexed but not, at this stage, alarmed. Using his trowel, Montresor begins to cover the entrance to the recess with stone and mortar. It is not until Montresor has laid the first tier of masonry that Fortunato seems to understand what is happening. He begins to moan, and plead with Montresor for his life. 

    Too little, too late. Montresor works until midnight, laying tier upon tier of stone and entombing Fortunato inside. As he prepares to lay the very last stone, Montresor hears Fortunato cry out, ‘For the love of God, Montresor!’. Before placing the final stone, he throws a torch into the recess. The only reply is the faint ringing of the bells on Fortunato’s costume. And then, silence.


    The Cask of Amontillado is pure Edgar Allan Poe. It begins with Poe’s bold choice to have the narrator effectively reveal the end of the story in its very first sentence. We know immediately that this story will see Montresor take his revenge on Fortunato. What we don’t know is what form that revenge will take. In his earlier work, The Murders at the Rue Morgue, Poe is credited with inventing the modern detective story. In a sense, The Cask of Amontillado is an anti-detective story – not a whodunnit, but a howdunnit. And the story still drips with suspense, as we try and piece together Montresor’s plan, watching as the guileless Fortunato moves unavoidably toward his gruesome fate.

    The story takes up one of Poe’s most significant and macabre motifs – that of the live burial. In The Fall of the House of Usher, the protagonist Roderick Usher insists on entombing the corpse of his twin sister Madeline in the family vaults. Days later, the bloody, bruised and still-living Madeline emerges, attacking and killing Roderick before falling dead herself. And in Poe’s The Black Cat, the narrator entombs the corpse of his wife within the walls of his house. The narrator is discovered by police when a screaming starts up from behind the walls – these are the cries of a live cat that the narrator had accidentally entombed along with his dead wife. 

    Like many of Poe’s finest stories, The Cask of Amontillado is a painfully claustrophobic read. Apart from a brief scene in the throngs of the Venice carnival, all the action takes place underground, in the narrow and labyrinthine vaults beneath Montresor’s palazzo. 

    But beyond physical claustrophobia, the reader also experiences a form of psychological claustrophobia. The story is narrated in the first person by Montresor. In this way the reader has access to all of his scheming, unsavory thoughts. For the duration of the story, the reader is trapped in the mind of a man who plans and executes a cold-blooded murder not just with grim relish but with an artistic flourish, too. Interestingly, Montresor’s true motivation for seeking revenge is never revealed – in the end, we are left with the impression that this murder could just as well have been committed for pure pleasure as it could have for vengeance.

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    Worum geht es in The Cask of Amontillado?

    The Cask of Amontillado (1846) is a chilling tale about one man’s expertly plotted revenge on another who has insulted him. It is a story of deceit, detachment and coolly premeditated murder.  

    Wer The Cask of Amontillado lesen sollte

    • Fans of the legend that is Edgar Allen Poe
    • Lovers of the dark and the macabre
    • Anyone who loves a well-written story

    Über den Autor

    Edgar Allen Poe (1809 - 1849) was an American author, poet and literary critic who is credited with pioneering the short story format, inventing detective fiction and playing a significant role in the development of science fiction. He is best known for his works of the macabre including The Raven, The Pit and the Pendulum and The Murders in the Rue Morgue

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