The novel tells
the story of the Otranto Castle, which is ruled by Manfred and his family.
The story starts
with the wedding of Manfred’s son, Conrad and Princess Isabella, but just before
the wedding, a giant helmet coming from the sky falls on Conrad and he is
crushed to death.
Manfred, who is
terrified by the idea of the end for his line, what would mean a new family
would occupy his throne, decides to marry Isabella himself and divorce his wife
out Manfred’s strategy and escapes to a church with the help of Theodore, a
peasant. Manfred orders Theodore’s death but right before the execution,
Jerome, a friar, recognizes Theodore as his son as he sees a marking on his
shoulder. Jerome begs Manfred not to kill his son, but he says Jerome must give
up Isabella or he will take Theodore’s life.
All of the
sudden, a trop of knights from a foreign kingdom, who want to rescue Isabella,
enter the castle and this leads to a race to find Isabella.
Theodore in a tower, but his daughter, Matilda, frees him. Theodore rescues
Isabella and takes her to a cave to protect her from Manfred. A knight appears
and Theodore badly wounds the mysterious knight, who confesses to be Isabella’s
Later in the
castle, Manfred begins to arrange a deal with Frederic about marrying each
other’s daughters and Frederic agrees as he finds Matilda attractive. Theodore
is meeting Matilda for a tryst at the church, Manfred suspects it’s Isabella
who is meeting Theodore so he heads there with a knife and stabs his daughter
Matilda, who will later die. We later find out Theodore is the true prince of
Otranto due to the fact that he is the grandson of the former King, Alfonso the
Good. He becomes king and marries Isabella.
The novel starts
with a sonnet called ‘Lady Mary Coke’ written by Walpole and continues as a
novel divided in five chapters.
The novel in
narrated in third-person omniscient.
The story is set
in Italy during the High Middle Ages.
Theodore is the real hero of the story although he is
introduced at the beginning of the novel as an unimportant peasant. He is later
made prisoner by Manfred twice and he also helps Isabella escape. All of these
actions prove he is brave and noble. After a series of events it is revealed
that he is Jerome’s lost son and Alfonso’s grandson, meaning he is the rightful
ruler of Otranto.
Jerome is a priest in the Otranto’s monastery. When Isabella
escapes, she goes directly to this monastery. He is the one to tell Manfred
that his plan of getting divorced to be with Isabella is not approved by
Heaven. He is not only a friar, he is also the prince of Falconara and
Manfred is the prince of Otranto and Lord of the castle. He
is an evil and selfish man who wants to rule Otranto at all cost. He is
introduced as the antagonist of the novel. After his son’s death, he is willing
to do anything to maintain his title. At the end, and after he kills his own
daughter by accident, the prophecy, he was so afraid of, becomes real.
Matilda is a beautiful young girl, and also Manfred’s
daughter. She falls in love with Theodore when he is prisoner in the castle.
She is an important character since she helps Theodore to escape. At the end
she dies because Manfred kills her accidentally.
Isabella is a princess, Frederic’s daughter. She is engaged to
Conrad, but after his dead and his father in law intentions of rape her, she
escapes from the castle with Theodore’s help. She will end up marrying him,
after Matilda’s dead.
Conrad is the son of Manfred and Hippolita, and unlike his
sister he is not attractive or lucky. He is engaged to Isabella, but dies right
before his wedding crushed by a giant helmet.
There are some secondary
characters such as:
Hippolita, who is Manfred’s devoted wife.
Frederic, Isabella’s father and Marquis of Vicenza. It is
believed that he is the only Alfonso’s successor or at least the closest
Hermit is the one who tells Frederic about a sword with the
Ricardo, was Alfonso’s chamberlain. He is the one to appropriate the throne in
Otranto. He is also Manfred’s grandfather.
Bianca, Hippolyta’s servant.
St. Nicholas is the saint to whom
Ricardo, after the shipwreck, prays to save his life. He also appears to Hermit
and tells him about the giant sword and that he could only talk about it when
he is in his deathbed
This is the most
important theme in the novel. There are elements that make this a gothic novel:
the castle in a foreign country; the ghosts, the spirits and the secret
passages inside of it; Conrad’s mysterious death; the prophecy written in a
We could see
Manfred as the personification of this theme; after all he is the responsible
of all the bad things that happen.
Ø Family and
First of all,
the aim of the wedding between Conrad and Isabella was to ensure the family
legacy. The death of his son won’t stop Manfred to keep going with this plan.
He decides to replace his son.
Then we have the
fact that Theodore begins in the novel as a simple peasant, but ends up being
the true heir of the Castle, thanks to his relationship with Alfonso.
And finally when
Manfred accidentally kills Matilde, his daughter, he changes drastically.
Manfred finally confess that he is not the real heir; he abdicates and goes to a
convent to live like a monk.
Destiny plays an
important part in the novel. Everything is determined by the prophecy, nobody
could change that, not even Manfred, who is the one that wants to change it at
This is not as
important as the rest. Manfred’s family ends up ruling Otranto because a
betrayal made by Manfred’s forefather Ricardo. He kills Alfonso, the ruler of
Otranto, so he can take the throne. And Matilda betrayed her father when she
helps Theodore space.
was born in September 1717 and he died in March 1797. He was an English man of letters
and a Whig Politician. His father was Robert Walpole who was the first Prime
Minister, also known as First Lord of Treasury.
He didn’t marry anyone. Walpole remained throughout his life an
enthusiastic admirer of Gray’s poetry.
In 1747 he
acquired a small villa at Twickenham and in 1768 he gave up his position in the
Parliament to retire there. The name of the castle was Strawberry Hill, a small
villa that he transformed into a pseudo-gothic showplace. Over the years, he
added: cloisters, turrets and filled the interior with pictures and all kind of
gothic elements. In that castle he built
a very big and important library. In addition, he established a private press
on the ground where he printed his own books and those of his friends, ex:
Gray’s Odes of 1757. Strawberry Hill was the stimulus for the Gothic revival in
English domestic architecture.
Some of his work:
Ø His private
correspondence of some 4,000 letters, which are a survey of the history,
manners, and taste of his age. His most substantial correspondence was with
Horace Mann, a British diplomat with whom he maintained contact for 45 years,
although they only saw each other in person once. Walpole’s correspondence was
published in 48 volumes and edited by W.S. Lewis and others.
Ø He also wrote
The Mysterious Mother (1768), a tragedy with the theme of incest.
Ø His most
important work, The Castle of Otranto.
The Castle of Otranto was published in
1764 and it succeeded in restoring the elements of romance to contemporary
fiction. Even if it was written in the 18th century, the actual story was set
in the 13th century. This story was the first gothic novel ever published and
because of that the next gothic novels would have similar characteristics. Also,
it’s going to be really influential in the future, not only in literature but
also in films, music and movies.
Some of these
Ø Most of the
stories are set in the medieval period and in old places like gloomy castles,
monasteries, catholic churches…
Ø They give
importance to ghosts, devils, mysterious disappearances and other supernatural
Ø Prominence of
the gothic architecture.
Ø Some of the important
characters have a curse.
Ø There are a lot
of supernatural events, or events that are really difficult to explain.
Ø When we read the
atmosphere is really intense, it has mystery and terror.
We need to know
about the time the story was written in, the 18th Century and also, the
time the story is set, the 13th Century. They say it was one of the
worst eras in history.
Some of the
important events during the 13th Century:
Ø The hundred year’s
war between France and England.
Ø The Agrarian
Crisis in 1320.
Ø An Economic
Ø Hundreds of
people were dying because of the disease and the hunger of the time. For
example, the plague.
Some of the
important events during the 18th Century:
Ø ACTS OF UNION 1707,
peace finally arrives to England and Scotland. The Kingdom of England and the
Kingdom of Scotland became one which name was
“Great Britain”. Even though this pact, problems still occur between the
two kingdoms, such as religion and conflicts between the two Royal Houses.
Ø England was also
involved in the Spanish Civil War.
Ø England was
ruled by The Hannover’s, which were from Germany. Three were the kings George I
(1714-172), George II (1728-1760) and George III (1760-1820).
Ø It was the Age
of Enlightenment, an European intellectual and philosophical movement. One of
the most important characteristics is the Human Reason. The goals of rational
humanity were considered to be knowledge, freedom, and happiness.
Ø The Enlightenment
brought the abolition. Different movements were created to stop slavery in
England. Even W.Cowper wrote a poem called ‘The Negro’s complaint’. Although it
was not until the 19th century that slavery didn’t end.
Ø In terms of
culture, theatres started to develop.
Some of the important companies were The Duke’s company and The Kings
Company. Also, the opera started to gain importance. Handel became the father
of English opera music.
Ø Finally, the
industrial revolution started at the end of 18th and the beginning
of the 19th century.