The Castle of Otranto

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Humor, the Gothic, and the Supernatural Theme Icon
The Divine vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
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Class, Comedy, and Tragedy Theme Icon
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The Divine vs. The Mundane Theme Icon

The balance between spiritual belief and worldly desires is a struggle many of the novel’s characters face. Manfred, the usurping prince of Otranto, is the most extreme example of this, as he succumbs to worldly temptation both politically and romantically. For example, after the death of his only male heir, Manfred attempts to preserve his lineage and political rule by committing various sins: seeking a divorce from his wife Hippolita; nearly murdering Hippolita; attempting to rape and marry his would-be daughter-in-law Isabella; and wrongfully imprisoning and sentencing a man to death. Despite Father Jerome’s many rebukes and warnings against such misdeeds, Manfred repeatedly refuses to recognize any authority that Heaven, Hell, or the likes of a friar might claim over him. Though Manfred’s pursuit of Isabella is largely motivated by his hunger for power, it also demonstrates the failure of the little piety he has to overcome his passion. Passion, in the sense of both lust and rage often overpower Manfred’s ability to reason and to choose right over wrong. For example, when he makes sexual advances on Isabella, both his lust for her and his anger over her escape motivate him to hunt for her throughout the castle. When Theodore remarks on the similarity between the helmet that kills Conrad and that of Alfonso’s statue, Manfred charges him with treason, unaware that his accusation is unreasonable and illogical. Only at the end of the novel, after Manfred mistakes Matilda for Isabella and kills his own daughter, does he repent his sins and commit himself to faith by becoming a monk.

Like Manfred, the other characters of the novel struggle to place their faith above their worldly desires. Despite Father Jerome’s warnings about Manfred’s cursed lineage, Theodore is unable to forget Matilda, with whom he has fallen in love, even after he marries Isabella. Matilda, who had long ago committed herself to piety, forgets her former desire to become a nun in favor of her newfound love, Theodore. By the end of the novel, however, she reverts to her former state of absolute filial piety, ignoring Theodore’s pleas to marry her and focusing entirely on her parents. Frederic, Isabella’s long-lost father, travels to Otranto to free his daughter but is tempted both by Manfred’s offer of Matilda and by the thought of controlling Otranto. Only when he is visited by the ghost of a hermit and when the ghost of Alfonso appears does he suppress his passion for Matilda and renounce his desire to rule Otranto. Hippolita, Manfred’s devoted wife, finds herself agreeing to divorce in order to fulfill Manfred’s wishes, despite Father Jerome’s insistence that to do so would be against heaven. Ultimately, however, Hippolita is not forced to divorce Manfred, but her devotion to him, which she once privileged over her piety, is finally overcome when she becomes a nun in a local convent. In each of these instances, Walpole sets up a binary between spiritual and worldly desires. That every character’s worldly desire is in some way thwarted by forces attributed to heaven, points to the sense in the novel that the divine should hold sway over the mundane and the human.

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The Divine vs. The Mundane ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Divine vs. The Mundane appears in each Chapter of The Castle of Otranto. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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The Divine vs. The Mundane Quotes in The Castle of Otranto

Below you will find the important quotes in The Castle of Otranto related to the theme of The Divine vs. The Mundane.
Chapter 1 Quotes

The Castle and Lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it.

Related Characters: Manfred, Theodore, Alfonso
Related Symbols: Castle of Otranto, The Giant Suit of Armor
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

These words are a prophecy about rulership of Otranto. At the beginning of the novel, Manfred is rushing his son Conrad’s wedding in order to avoid the prophecy, which foretells the end of Manfred’s reign. It is this prophecy that drives the entirety of the plot, from Manfred’s arrangement of Conrad’s wedding to his own pursuit of Isabella, to the gigantic pieces of armor that mysteriously appear around the castle. By the end of the novel, it is revealed that these pieces of oversized armor belong to Alfonso, the last true ruler of Otranto. Though Manfred spends almost the entirety of the novel committing sins to fight against this prophecy, which was originally delivered by St. Nicholas to Manfred’s grandfather, Manfred allows the prophecy to pass after he accidentally kills his daughter, finally repenting and seeking atonement as a monk.

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Manfred rose to pursue her; when the moon, which was now up, and gleamed in at the opposite casement, presented to his sight the plumes of the fatal helmet, which rose to the height of the windows, waving backwards and forwards in a tempestuous manner, and accompanied with a hollow and rustling sound…. “Heaven nor hell shall impede my designed!” said Manfred, advancing again to seize the princess. At that instant, the portrait of his grandfather, which hung over the bench where they had been sitting, uttered a deep sigh, and heaved its breast.

Related Characters: Manfred (speaker), Isabella, Ricardo
Related Symbols: The Giant Suit of Armor
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

Manfred, having had the light taken away by his servant, has just cornered Isabella in the dark gallery of the castle and declared his intention to rape and marry her. Now, Isabella has just begun to run away, and though Manfred tries to follow her, he is stopped by the light of the moon, a symbol of goodness and chastity, and by the movement of the giant helmet’s feathers, which wave from side to side as if shaking their heads.

Manfred is thwarted time and again by manifestations of divine will. When he declares that neither heaven nor hell will stop him, he is immediately distracted by his grandfather’s moving portrait, which leads him only to a slammed door. The implication seems to be both that heaven stands against Manfred’s plans, and that the legacy passed down to him by his grandfather – the rulership of Otranto – leads to a dead end. Yet instead of taking these hints and ceasing his efforts, Manfred instead refuses to stand down. He is working against heaven and fate.

That excellent lady, who no more than Manfred doubted the reality of the vision, yet affected to treat it as a delirium of the servant. Willing, however, to save her lord from any additional shock, and prepared by a series of grief not to tremble at any accession to it, she determined to make herself the first sacrifice, if fate had marked the present hour for their destruction.

Related Characters: Manfred, Hippolita, Diego
Related Symbols: The Giant Suit of Armor
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

Though both are sure of its reality, Hippolita and Manfred dismiss the servants’ report of a giant leg in armor as superstition. However, as they will soon learn, they are wrong to do so, as the armor represents the end of Manfred’s rule. Hippolita’s decision to offer herself up as a sacrifice leads her to anticipate disaster throughout the novel, and as a result, she is all too ready to consent to a divorce from Manfred when he asks her to do so. Constantly putting Manfred’s needs before her own, Hippolita’s willingness to sacrifice herself for her husband’s sake is a sign of her selflessness and wifely submission, but at the same time it involves placing her husband’s authority above the authority of God, which is a sin.

Ashamed, too, of his inhuman treatment of a princess, who returned every injury with new marks of tenderness and duty; he felt returning love forcing itself into his eyes—but not less ashamed of feeling remorse towards one, against whom he was inwardly meditating a yet more bitter outrage, he curbed the yearnings of his heart, and did not dare to lean even towards pity. The next transition of his soul was to exquisite villainy. Presuming on the unshaken submission of Hippolita, he flattered himself that she would not only acquiesce with patience to a divorce, but would obey, if it was his pleasure, in endeavouring to persuade Isabella to give him her hand.

Related Characters: Manfred, Isabella, Hippolita
Related Symbols: The Giant Suit of Armor
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

After his initial feverish search for Isabella failed, Manfred has calmed down at the reassurance of his wife and begins to feel remorse for his treatment of both Hippolita and Isabella. However, though he is beginning to feel shame, he simultaneously feels “a yet more bitter outrage” against Isabella and his fickle emotions soon bring him back to “exquisite villainy,” as his anger and pride overcomes his conscience.

Both highly patriarchal and unreasonably proud of his ability to persuade others, Manfred deludes himself into believing that his wife will be so obedient that she would readily betray her morals for him. Though Hippolita does in fact agree to a divorce, she does so only passively and without enthusiasm. The passage also captures the way that female submission, while seen at the time as a virtue, leads to men requiring and demanding even more submission, even to the point of demanding submission to sinful behavior.

Chapter 2 Quotes

“Father,” interrupted Manfred, “I pay due reverence to your holy profession; but I am sovereign here, and will allow no meddling priest to interfere in the affairs of my domestic. If you have aught to say, attend me to my chamber—I do not use to let my wife be acquainted with the secret affairs of my state; they are not within a woman’s province.”

Related Characters: Manfred (speaker), Father Jerome, Hippolita
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

Interrupting Jerome from telling Hippolita of his wrongdoings, Manfred asserts that priests and woman have no place in the political sphere, and asks to speak to Jerome alone. As he will do again and again in his conversations with Jerome throughout the novel, Manfred insists on a separation between church and state, a separation which, in the world of the novel, is shown to be against divine will. Just as he declares that his wife should have no say in his rule, Manfred argues that a mere priest has no authority over him. However, unlike Hippolita who submits easily to Manfred’s wishes, Jerome is less tractable in his convictions and becomes Manfred’s main adversary and foil.

Further, the implications of Manfred’s argument that Jerome has no authority over the realm of politics is that God has no authority over politics, and is therefore a resistance to the idea of God’s ultimate authority. In the world of the novel – and religious thought at the time the novel was written – that is a sinful position.

Chapter 3 Quotes

Know then, that I have long been troubled in mind on my union with the princess Hippolita…for we are related within the forbidden degrees. My only difficulty was to fix on a successor, who would be tender of my people, and to dispose of the Lady Isabella, who is dear to me as my own blood. I was willing to restore the line of Alfonso, even in his most distant kindred…. I would submit to anything for the good of my people—were it not the best, the only way to extinguish the feuds between our families, if I was to take the Lady Isabella to wife—you start—but, though Hippolita’s virtues will ever be dear to me, a prince must not consider himself; he is born for his people.

Related Characters: Manfred (speaker), Isabella, Hippolita, Alfonso
Page Number: 69-70
Explanation and Analysis:

After inviting Frederic’s men into the castle, Manfred is determined to appease them in order to maintain his rule, and so he recycles for the knights the same story that he believes worked on Jerome. Claiming that he wishes to avoid incest by divorcing his wife, Manfred proposes that the best solution for him and his people is to marry Isabella, who is “dear to [him] as [his] own blood.” Manfred does not seem to realize that such a marriage would also be incestuous and that his proposed solution – to avoid incest with his wife by marrying his ward and almost-daughter-in-law – is illogical.

The gaping lies in Manfred’s speech, meant to prove his suitability as a ruler, ironically prove that he is not suitable to be prince. Though he claims that marrying Isabella would be “the best, the only way to extinguish the feuds” between himself and Frederic’s men, a far easier solution to end the feud and to avoid the supposed incest with Hippolita, would be to renounce his claim over Otranto and retire to the convent, just as he does at the end of the novel. The double meaning of Manfred’s insistence that he is “born for his people” is ironic, as Manfred, the grandson of a chamberlain, was never meant to be born into rulership at all, and as he could have easily given Otranto over to Frederic to provide his people with a successor.

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.

“Thou art as much too good for this world,” said Isabella, “as Manfred is execrable—but think not, lady, that thy weakness shall determine for me. I swear, hear me all ye angels” — Stop, I adjure thee,” cried Hippolita; “remember thou dost not depend on thyself; thou hast a father.”

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

After Matilda and Isabella reconcile, Hippolita arrives to announce that she has proposed a marriage between Matilda and Frederic. Isabella, knowing that this will make Manfred’s plans to marry her easier, begins to pray. However, Hippolita stops her, telling Isabella that she must listen to her father (Frederic) first.

Hippolita’s interruption of Isabella’s prayer shows once again that Hippolita’s priorities are not in order. By claiming that Isabella’s fate depends on her father, Hippolita is implying that Frederic’s authority as a father is greater than the divine authority of the angels. Just as she does with her own husband, Hippolita privileges female obedience to worldly, masculine authority above Christian obligations to divine will.

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.

The moment Theodore appeared, the walls of the castle behind Manfred were thrown down with a mighty force, and the form of Alfonso, dilated to an immense magnitude, appeared in the centre of the ruins. “Behold in Theodore the true heir of Alfonso!” said the vision: and having pronounced these words, accompanied by a clap of thunder, it ascended solemnly towards Heaven, where, the clouds parting asunder, the form of St. Nicholas was seen, and receiving Alfonso’s shade, they were soon wrapt from mortal eyes in a blaze of glory.

Related Characters: Alfonso (speaker), Manfred, Theodore
Related Symbols: Castle of Otranto, The Giant Suit of Armor
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

After Manfred kills Matilda’s (thinking she was Isabella), the castle is beset by an earthquake that drives out its inhabitants. As soon as Theodore goes out into the court, the walls behind Manfred come crashing down, indicating that Manfred’s power, residing in the castle walls, is now destroyed.

In the ruins’ place appears the giant ghost of Alfonso, fulfilling the ancient prophecy Manfred feared. Alfonso’s likeness to Theodore bolsters the ghost’s message that Theodore is the rightful ruler of Otranto. Though the other supernatural phenomena in the story are hinted or speculated by the characters to be of divine will, the appearance of Alfonso’s ghost, the story’s last supernatural phenomenon, is clearly divinely ordained, as the ghost rises to heaven and as St. Nicholas appears “in a blaze of glory.” This final divine intervention pushes Manfred, Hippolita, and Frederic to suppress their worldly desires for the sake of their faith, and establishes that with the rise of Theodore to the rulership of Otranto that the order of things ordained by heaven has been set right.

“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.