The Castle of Otranto

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Matilda Character Analysis

Matilda is the beautiful 18-year-old daughter of Manfred and Hippolita, and Conrad’s sister. Matilda is intelligent, pious, and completely devoted to her mother. Though she originally intended to become a nun rather than marry, she falls in love with Theodore and helps him escape her father. Seeing her in a church with Theodore, Manfred thinks she is Isabella and accidentally kills her. She dies as an innocent, and her death transforms her father who immediately repents of all of his actions.

Matilda Quotes in The Castle of Otranto

The The Castle of Otranto quotes below are all either spoken by Matilda or refer to Matilda. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Humor, the Gothic, and the Supernatural Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of The Castle of Otranto published in 2004.
Chapter 1 Quotes

She was, however, just going to beg admittance, when Manfred suddenly opened the door; and, as it was now twilight, concurring with the disorder of his mind, he did not distinguish the person, but asked angrily, who it was? Matilda replied, trembling, “My dearest father, it is I, your daughter.” Manfred, stepping back hastily, cried, “Begone! I do not want a daughter”; and flinging back abruptly, clapped the door against the terrified Matilda.

Related Characters: Manfred (speaker), Matilda (speaker)
Page Number: Book Page 32
Explanation and Analysis:

After Hippolita orders her daughter Matilda to check on her father, Matilda, the dutiful daughter, obeys. However, when she reaches the door, Manfred does not recognize her and orders her to leave. Manfred’s inability to recognize Matilda here echoes his more general inability to recognize Isabella as his daughter – whether as his daughter-in-law, or as his de facto daughter from having been his ward – that is inherent in his desire to force Isabella to marry him and give birth to his heir.

Manfred’s declaration, “I do not want a daughter,” points both to his desire for a son, a new male heir, and to his desire to have Isabella as a wife rather than a daughter. This passage also suggests perhaps that Isabella is a proxy for Matilda, making Manfred’s desire for Isabella all the more incestuous.

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Chapter 2 Quotes

“O that dear mother! yes, Bianca, ‘tis there I feel the rugged temper of Manfred. I can support his harshness to me with patience; but it wounds my soul when I am witness to his causeless severity towards her.” “Oh! madam,” said Bianca, “all men use their wives so, when they are weary of them.” “And yet your congratulated me but now,” said Matilda, “when you fancied my father intended to dispose of me!” “I would have you a great lady,” replied Bianca, “come what will. I do not wish to see you moped in a convent, as you would be if you had your will, and if my lady, your mother, who knows that a bad husband is better than no husband at all, did not hinder you—”

Related Characters: Matilda (speaker), Bianca (speaker), Manfred, Hippolita
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of Chapter 2, shortly after Isabella’s disappearance, Matilda is in her room, ruminating over the day’s events in the company of her servant Bianca. Ever the dutiful daughter, Matilda is used to her father’s indifference but cannot stand his poor treatment of her mother. Bianca’s explanation for Manfred’s behavior, that all men “use” their wives, and her belief that women should be married, suggest that in her view, women are meant to be married and to be “used” – that women are objects that exist for men.

In contrast, Matilda’s desire to become a nun is thus a desire to remain independent of a male-dominated society in which women are oppressed.

Chapter 3 Quotes

Matilda disengaged herself from her women, stole up to the black tower, and unbolting the door, presented herself to the astonished Theodore. “Young man,” said she, “though filial duty and womanly modesty condemn the step I am taking, yet holy charity, surmounting all other ties, justifies this act. Fly, the doors of thy prison are open: my father and his domestics are absent, but they may soon return.”

Related Characters: Matilda (speaker), Manfred, Theodore
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

While all of Manfred’s men are racing Frederic’s knights to find Isabella, Theodore is locked in a prison that is now unguarded. By freeing Theodore from prison, Matilda reverses traditional gender roles of knight and damsel in distress. It is not the princess who is freed from the locked tower by a knight, as would normally be expected of heroic tales, but rather the knight who is freed by the princess.

Playing a “masculine” role, Matilda is aware that her actions go against both her father’s wishes and against “womanly modesty.” However, her violation of both worldly norms is justified by “holy charity,” which “surmount[s] all other ties.” Unlike her mother, whose Christian morals often yield to her husband’s wishes, Matilda’s freeing of an unjustly imprisoned man confirms that spiritual values must be placed above all else.

Chapter 4 Quotes

And jealousy, that, for a moment, had raised a coolness between these amiable maidens, soon gave way to the natural sincerity and candour of their souls. Each confessed to the other the impression that Theodore had made on her; and this confidence was followed by a struggle of generosity, each insisting on yielding her claim to her friend.

Related Characters: Theodore, Isabella, Matilda
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

Now that Isabella has returned to the castle with Theodore, Matilda suspects that the two are in love with each other, while Isabella, in love with Theodore herself, perceives that he is actually loves Matilda. After a tense conversation in which both women are reluctant to declare their love, the two princesses talk more sincerely, each willing to give up their romantic claims for the sake of her friend.

That romantic love gets in the way of Matilda and Isabella’s friendship suggests that romantic love is a corrupting force. Just as Manfred’s desire for Isabella causes him to become irrationally jealous and manipulative, the women’s love for Theodore evokes jealousy and insincerity in them both. However, unlike Manfred, who gives himself completely to his lust for power and Isabella, the princesses are able to revert to their better natures by renouncing their romantic desires.

It is not ours to make election for ourselves: heaven, our fathers, and our husbands, must decide for us. Have patience until you hear what Manfred and Frederic have determined. If the marquis accepts Matilda’s hand, I know she will readily obey. Heaven may interpose and prevent the rest.

Related Characters: Hippolita (speaker), Manfred, Isabella, Frederic, Matilda
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

Advising Isabella to listen to her father first, Hippolita declares that it is not the place of a woman to make any choices for herself and that such choices must be made by “heaven, our fathers, and our husbands.” Without distinguishing between the level of authority that heaven, fathers, and husbands each have over women, Hippolita implies that fathers and husbands have at least equal authority over women compared to heaven. Just as she assumed in Chapter 2 that Jerome’s obligations to the divine were comparable to her obligations to her husband, Hippolita mistakenly implies that men’s authority over women is as important as divine authority.

Though Hippolita is a pious woman, her approach to adhering to Christian principles is passive at best. Though Father Jerome is a spiritual authority, she turns to him to explain the moral ramifications of Frederic’s marriage to Matilda only after she has already proposed the marriage idea to Manfred. Leaving the decision up to Manfred and Frederic as the male authorities, Hippolita does not actively try to shape or prevent a certain outcome but rather leaves it to heaven to prevent an immoral situation.

“Come, come,” resumed the friar, “inconsiderate youth, this must not be; eradicate this guilty passion from thy breast.”—“Guilty passion!” cried Theodore, “Can guilt dwell with innocent beauty and virtuous modesty?”—“It is sinful,” replied the friar, “to cherish those whom heaven has doomed to destruction. A tyrant’s race must be swept from the earth to the third and fourth generation.”

Related Characters: Theodore (speaker), Father Jerome (speaker), Manfred, Matilda
Page Number: 89-90
Explanation and Analysis:

Shortly before Hippolita seeks Jerome’s advice about a marriage between Frederic and Matilda, Jerome is advising his son to relinquish his love for Matilda. Jerome’s warning against “guilty passion” reinforces the novel’s previous implications that romantic love is a corrupting force.

Jerome’s declaration that it is sinful to love a “a tyrant’s race,” which is doomed for destruction, originates from the Bible. In his first preface to Otranto, Walpole, posing as the story’s fictional translator, criticizes the fictional Italian “author” of story, Onuphrio Muralto, for using this Bible quote on the grounds that it as an ineffective moral for the story because tyrants rarely care about the consequences of their actions if those consequences are delayed to the third and fourth generations. Walpole (still posing as the translator rather than the actual narrator of the story) further adds that this message of unavoidable doom is undermined by Muralto’s conflicting message that prayer will save them. Though Matilda and Conrad (the fourth generation following Richard, the original tyrant) both die, Manfred (the third generation) avoids death by repenting and retiring to the convent. Walpole, a Protestant, purposefully calls attention to his construction of these conflicting religious lessons, perhaps to highlight the often contradictory messages posed by Catholic doctrine.

Manfred, in the mean time, had broken his purpose to Frederic, and proposed the double marriage. That weak prince, who had been struck with the charms of Matilda, listened but too eagerly to the offer. He forgot his enmity to Manfred, whom he saw but little hope of dispossessing by force; and flattering himself that no issue might succeed from the union of his daughter with the tyrant, he looked upon his own succession to the principality as facilitated by wedding Matilda.

Related Characters: Manfred, Isabella, Frederic, Matilda
Page Number: Book Page 91
Explanation and Analysis:

While Jerome is urging Hippolita not to consent to divorce, Manfred is proposing that he and Frederic marry each other’s daughters. Frederic, forgetting his mission to save Isabella from Manfred, is deeply tempted by the thought of marrying Matilda, and places his romantic desires and desire to control Otranto above his divinely sanctioned mission.

Though Manfred’s marriage to Isabella would already be sinful, as she is his de facto daughter and was meant to be his daughter-in-law, the double marriage between the two men and each other’s daughters would be even more incestuous because of the complicated in-law relationships resulting from the marriages. At the times that both Walpole and his persona Muralto were writing, marriages between in-laws were still considered incestuous. For example, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which Walpole claims to emulate, the marriage between Gertrude and Claudius is considered incestuous because Claudius is both Gertrude’s brother-in-law and her husband. The double marriage that Manfred proposes would result in even more confusing relationships, as both fathers would also be their daughters’ sons-in-law and as both daughters would be each other’s stepmothers.

Chapter 5 Quotes

That prince had discovered so much passion for Matilda, that Manfred hoped to obtain all he wished by holding out or withdrawing his daughter’s charms, according as the marquis should appear more or less disposed to co-operate in his views.

Related Characters: Manfred, Frederic, Matilda
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

Delighted at the extent of Frederic’s temptation for Matilda, Manfred decides to use his daughter to manipulate Frederic into yielding to Manfred’s plans. Having forgotten the reason for his arrival at Otranto, Frederic’s “passion” for Matilda renders him more easily manipulated and thus corruptible.

Manfred’s ability to use Matilda as a carrot to wave in front of Frederic stems from a patriarchal system that objectifies women and exploits female bodies. As Matilda’s father, Manfred is able to dispose of her as he wishes. As a woman’s marriageability was often tied to her physical appearance and virginity, the female body became a form of currency exchanged by wealthy and noble fathers for land, wealth, or power.

“Thou guiltless, but unhappy woman! unhappy by my crimes!” replied Manfred, “my heart, at last, is open to thy devout admonitions. Oh! could—but it cannot be—ye are lost in wonder—let me at last do justice on myself! To heap shame on my own head is all the satisfaction I have left to offer to offended Heaven. My story has drawn down these judgements: let my confession atone—but ah! what can atone for usurpation, and a murdered child! a child murdered in a consecrated place!—List, sirs, and may this bloody record be a warning to future tyrants!

Related Characters: Manfred (speaker), Matilda, Hippolita
Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:

Repentant for killing his daughter and awed by the appearance of Alfonso’s ghost, Manfred is finally ready to atone for his sins and to listen to Hippolita, marking a drastic change from his previous refusal to listen to anything a priest or woman had to say. Confessing his murder of Matilda and the story of how his grandfather usurped the throne, Manfred presents his story as a “warning to future tyrants.”

However, one could argue that, because Walpole dismissed the effectiveness of Muralto’s “message” in his first preface, Manfred’s transformation from a lustful, power-hungry tyrant to a repentant monk seems less a warning against would-be tyrants than a warning against the Catholic religious agenda of an “artful priest.” That said, it is never entirely clear just how seriously Walpole takes any of these various layers of the story (the fictional translator interpreting an Italian story by a fictional author who was a Catholic priest), and to what degree he created all of these layers mainly to add mystery and excitement to his effort to write a rollicking good story.

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Matilda Character Timeline in The Castle of Otranto

The timeline below shows where the character Matilda appears in The Castle of Otranto. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Lineage and Leadership Theme Icon
Class, Comedy, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender and Marriage Theme Icon
Manfred, the prince of Otranto, has two children, a beautiful, virginal 18-year-old daughter Matilda, whom he ignores, and a sickly, unaccomplished 15-year-old son Conrad, whom he favors. At the... (full context)
Humor, the Gothic, and the Supernatural Theme Icon
Lineage and Leadership Theme Icon
Gender and Marriage Theme Icon
...in fear and points wordlessly to the court. Everyone is in terror; Hippolita faints, and Matilda and Isabella take care of her, while Manfred goes out to the court, only to... (full context)
Gender and Marriage Theme Icon
...of the Lady Isabella.” The servants bring a shocked and distraught Hippolita to her room. Matilda assists her, as does Isabella, who regards Hippolita as a mother and who is secretly... (full context)
Gender and Marriage Theme Icon
Hippolita, who has regained her consciousness, is now entirely focused on Manfred’s wellbeing and orders Matilda to watch over him. Matilda, ever the dutiful daughter, obeys, despite her fear of her... (full context)
Lineage and Leadership Theme Icon
Gender and Marriage Theme Icon
Not wanting to upset her mother, Matilda returns to Hippolita with news that Manfred is well. A servant arrives, summoning Isabella to... (full context)
Chapter 2
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Now in her own room, Matilda is restless and overwhelmed with emotion at her brother’s death, Isabella’s disappearance, and the ominous... (full context)
Lineage and Leadership Theme Icon
Gender and Marriage Theme Icon
...weary of them,” but that “a bad husband is better than no husband at all.” Matilda explains that she would much rather become a nun and is thankful that her father... (full context)
Class, Comedy, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender and Marriage Theme Icon
While the women are talking, they hear a voice from the room below Matilda’s. Though Bianca becomes terrified that it is a ghost, Matilda opens a window and realizes... (full context)
Class, Comedy, and Tragedy Theme Icon
...been responsible for Conrad’s death, suggesting that perhaps the stranger is a prince in disguise. Matilda dismisses Bianca’s speculations and resolves to question him about Isabella later. Bianca continues to chatter,... (full context)
Humor, the Gothic, and the Supernatural Theme Icon
Lineage and Leadership Theme Icon
Class, Comedy, and Tragedy Theme Icon
...great hall for questioning. As Manfred begins to question the peasant, whose name is Theodore, Matilda and Bianca happen to be walking by. Seeing for the first time the stranger with... (full context)
Chapter 3
Gender and Marriage Theme Icon
...orders for his men to search for Isabella. But this leaves Theodore’s tower unguarded, and Matilda takes the opportunity to rescue Theodore. The two of them instantly fall in love. Matilda... (full context)
Gender and Marriage Theme Icon
...order to protect her from Manfred. He soon finds her in the caves to which Matilda had given him directions and vows to protect her. When Isabella is reluctant to retreat... (full context)
Chapter 4
Humor, the Gothic, and the Supernatural Theme Icon
The Divine vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Gender and Marriage Theme Icon
...none of which are life-threatening. As he is being cared for, Frederic meets Hippolita and Matilda, and falls in love with Matilda. And though Matilda’s love for Theodore remains, she is... (full context)
The Divine vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
The next day, Matilda and Isabella decide to meet, as they are both in love with Theodore, who has... (full context)
The Divine vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Lineage and Leadership Theme Icon
Gender and Marriage Theme Icon
...into Frederic’s hands, announces that she has proposed to Manfred a marriage between Frederic and Matilda in order to unite the claims of both lines. The two young princesses are horrified,... (full context)
The Divine vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Lineage and Leadership Theme Icon
...a divorce. At that moment, Jerome is urging his son to suppress his feelings for Matilda, as “a tyrant’s race must be swept from the earth to the third and fourth... (full context)
The Divine vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Gender and Marriage Theme Icon
...each other’s daughters. Frederic, tempted by the prospects of eventually ruling Otranto and marriage to Matilda, weakly protests the double marriage for the sake of appearances, but eventually agrees on the... (full context)
Chapter 5
Class, Comedy, and Tragedy Theme Icon
...the way back to Frederic, though, he meets Bianca. Knowing that Bianca is Isabella’s and Matilda’s confidante, he tries to ascertain the exact nature of Isabella’s and Theodore’s relationship. However, after... (full context)
The Divine vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Gender and Marriage Theme Icon
...to sway him by praising his daughter’s beauty. Frederic remains tempted by the thought of Matilda, and even more so by the power of ruling Otranto. And yet, he still wavers... (full context)
Humor, the Gothic, and the Supernatural Theme Icon
The Divine vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Once the banquet is over, Frederic desires Matilda more than ever and goes to see Hippolita in her oratory in order to confirm... (full context)
The Divine vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
...When he hears the couple discuss getting married, his fury rises and he stabs the woman from behind, believing that it is Isabella. However, it is not Isabella but Matilda, his... (full context)
The Divine vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Gender and Marriage Theme Icon
The monks and Theodore are bringing Matilda to the castle, with Manfred following behind in despair. Hippolita, who had heard the news,... (full context)
Humor, the Gothic, and the Supernatural Theme Icon
The Divine vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Lineage and Leadership Theme Icon
...when they meet Manfred in the court. Manfred, who was on his way to see Matilda, realizes that his daughter is dead, and at that moment, the earth rocks and the... (full context)