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Beware the Sherry Drinker

The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe was first published in the November 1846 issue of Godey’s Lady’s Book. The short story is set in an Italian city at carnival time and is about a man taking revenge on a friend who, he suspects, has insulted him.

The two leading characters are the narrator and murderer Montresor and Fortunato, a wine expert and also the story’s victim.

The narrator, Montresor, explains that a man, Fortunato, has offended him, ‘a thousand times over’, and he has vowed to take revenge. Fortunato has no idea of Montresor’s intentions and that he plans to use Fortunato’s expertise in wine to lead him to his death.

Montresor tells the reader that he meets Fortunato at a carnival and explains that Fortunato is dressed as a jester and is also very drunk.

Montresor tempts Fortunato to come to his home to see the pipe (barrel) of Amontillado (a very specific kind of Spanish sherry) that he has there.

When the two men arrive at Montresor’s home, they go into the catacombs via a winding staircase. Fortunato, still very drunk, starts coughing and Montresor says he is concerned for his friend and offers him more to drink. Fortunato starts acting foolishly and begins accusing Montresor of not being a mason, angering Montresor.

When the men reach the most isolated part of the catacombs, they find a small crypt containing human bones. They can see a recessed area ahead and Fortunato continues into this tomb with Montresor’s encouragement. Fortunato is very drunk and confused and Montresor chains him up. Fortunato is still asking for the Amontillado as Montresor brings in stone and mortar. Montresor begins to build a wall at the entrance of the recessed area. Montresor describes to the reader how, as he builds, he can hear the noise of the chains and the jingle of the bells from Fortunato’s jester costume.

When the wall is half built, Fortunato starts screaming and Montresor ridicules him. Fortunato then calms down and says, ‘A very good joke indeed.’ Montresor humours him but Fortunato realises that it is not a joke and screams, ‘for the love of God, Montresor,’ then he makes no more noise and there is silence.

Montresor wants Fortunato to carry on begging for his life, and becomes impatient. He calls out to Fortunato, hoping this will aggravate him. The man makes no sound. With the hope of getting him to respond in some way, Montresor throws a torch into the gap that has not been filled. He can hear the clinking of bells. He tells the reader how his ‘heart grew sick’, but only on the ‘account of the dampness of the catacombs,’ and he carries on finishing building the wall. Then he explains that these events happened fifty years earlier. Montresor finishes his recollection with the words, ‘rest in peace’.

Whether you’re a sherry drinker or not this story is a wonderful, mysterious tale and it puts Spain’s Amontillado sherry at centre stage. 

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