Now in her own room, Matilda is restless and overwhelmed with emotion at her brother’s death, Isabella’s disappearance, and the ominous tone and rage Manfred had exhibited toward her mother. Her servant, Bianca, fills her in on the latest gossip about the discovery of the young peasant and the giant leg in armor. Matilda, however, is more concerned about Isabella, her mother, and her brother’s burial.
The contrast between Matilda and Bianca is another example of the story’s distinction between nobles and peasants. While Matilda is focused on the gravity of the story’s events, Bianca is more interested in the castle gossip.
When Bianca speculates about Manfred’s desire for grandsons, the two women have a discussion about marriage, in which Bianca claims that “all men use their wives,” as Manfred does Hippolita, “when they are 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 has rejected numerous proposals for her. Bianca then teases Matilda for her adoration of a painting of Alfonso, a heroic past ruler of Otranto, but Matilda claims she is not in love with the painting and reveals that her mother has told her to pray at Alfonso’s tomb. Despite her mother’s lack of explanation for this, Matilda, as a dutiful daughter, does so without question.
Bianca’s seemingly contradictory claims that men “use” their wives but that “a bad husband is better than no husband” suggests that in such a worldview, women are meant to be married and to be used, that they are objects. Matilda’s gratefulness that her father has rejected marriage proposals for her is darkly ironic, both because Manfred will later be all too ready to trade her off to Frederic for Isabella, and because Manfred’s desire for Isabella, arguably a proxy for Matilda, poses similarities to a set of medieval stories –Constance tales – which often involved kings rejecting marriage proposals so that the fathers could fulfill their sexual desire for their daughters.
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 that it is a stranger singing. Though they cannot see each other, the stranger reveals himself to be polite, well spoken, pious, and unhappy. Bianca assumes that because he is unhappy, he is in love, and she immediately wants to pry into his life, but Matilda is skeptical of Bianca’s reasoning and decides to respect his privacy. However, when the stranger asks about the missing princess, Matilda becomes suspicious that he is spying on her father and ends the conversation.
Once again, the contrast between Bianca and Matilda’s behavior reveals their differences in class. Whereas Bianca oversimplifies a situation about which she has no direct knowledge and pries into others’ lives, Matilda is more logical and respectful of others’ privacy. Even despite her father’s strange behavior and temper towards her mother, Matilda maintains her filial loyalty by ending her conversation with the stranger.
Bianca reveals that the servants believe the stranger helped Isabella escape. She insinuates that the stranger is unhappy because he is in love with Isabella and that he may have 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, suggesting that Isabella and the stranger perhaps orchestrated Conrad’s death and that Isabella secretly mocked Matilda’s aspirations for nunhood. Despite Bianca’s gossip, Matilda steadfastly defends Isabella and their friendship.
Like the mob of peasants in Chapter 1, Bianca jumps to conclusions with no evidence. Despite being the confidante of both Isabella and Matilda, Bianca gossips about Isabella to Matilda with little regard for the conflict that her speculations may sow between the two princesses. One of Bianca’s wild speculations, however, is correct — the stranger does turn out to be a prince in disguise, recalling Walpole’s assertion in the first preface that the servants often bring to light important parts of the story through their simplemindedness.
At that moment, a servant interrupts them with the news that Isabella has sought sanctuary at St. Nicholas’s church and that Father Jerome of the church is now informing Manfred, who is in Hippolita’s room. The narrator jumps to the interaction between Jerome and Manfred, in which Manfred tries to question Jerome alone to prevent Hippolita from learning information he doesn’t want her to know. Jerome nearly tells Hippolita why Isabella sought sanctuary, but Manfred interrupts him, claiming that as a priest, he has no business in Manfred’s affairs, and that, as a woman, neither does Hippolita. Jerome, however, asserts his status as “minister of a mightier prince than Manfred.”
In the story’s first interaction between Manfred and Jerome, the two men argue, as they will throughout the story, about who has greater authority. While Manfred asserts that religion has no right to interfere in his rulership, Jerome insists that God’s will is greater than any human king’s. Manfred’s mistake, according to the story’s fictional author and Catholic priest Muralto, is to presume that his worldly authority is greater than or equal to divine will. Manfred’s impiety is also accompanied by his misogynistic claim that women have no place in politics.
Jerome then passes along a message from Isabella to both Manfred and Hippolita, affirming her compassion for Conrad’s loss and her respect for them both as her parents, and requesting their consent to stay at the church. Angry, Manfred refuses and blames the young peasant for Isabella’s flight. While Manfred tries to assert his role as Isabella’s parent in order to regain her for himself, Jerome repeatedly questions the propriety of such an arrangement, insinuating his knowledge of Manfred’s wrongdoings without explicitly informing Hippolita, who decides not to hear anything her husband does not want her to learn. Hippolita goes to her oratory, a private room for prayer, leaving the two men alone.
While Isabella’s message to Manfred and Hippolita is meant to assure her own safety, her message also reaffirms her status as Manfred’s and Hippolita’s de facto daughter, thereby maintaining her filial duty and making clear to Manfred the boundaries that such a relationship entails. However, Manfred refuses to adhere to such boundaries and tries to assert his role as her father in order to become her husband. Jerome’s defense of Isabella marks the beginning of his role as her protector in the story. Hippolita’s submissive refusal to hear of her husband’s suspicious behavior will also recur throughout the novel.
Now in his own room, Manfred has a private discussion with Jerome and claims that his attempt to rape Isabella was motivated by “reasons of state.” He tries to bribe Jerome with money for the church into persuading Hippolita to agree to a divorce and become a nun, arguing that his life, his family, and the state of Otranto depend on a divorce and his having a son. Unwilling to betray Isabella even for the good of the church, Jerome accuses Manfred of “incestuous design,” and vows to protect Isabella. He urges Manfred to resign himself to God’s will.
Attempting to sway Jerome to agree to a sinful divorce, Manfred commits the sinful acts of bribery and lying. Like the mob of peasants, he is illogical, unable to supply a valid reason for his attempted rape of Isabella. Whereas Manfred is willing to commit any sin for the sake of his own power, Jerome refuses to accept his bribe and false excuses in order to protect Isabella.
Realizing that his line of argument isn’t working, Manfred backtracks and claims that his desire to divorce Hippolita stems instead from his tortured conscience over the possible illegality and incestuous nature of their marriage. Jerome recognizes Manfred’s attempt to manipulate him but decides to play along, as he fears for Hippolita, Isabella, and whomever else Manfred might harm if angered. When Manfred interrogates Jerome about the peasant, Jerome unwisely confirms a romantic connection between the peasant and Isabella, thinking it might help her later.
Manfred once again exhibits his lack of reasoning skills: right after Jerome accuses him of “incestuous design,” Manfred feigns remorse over his supposedly incestuous marriage to Hippolita, asking the priest to sanction a divorce so that he will be able engage in yet another incestuous marriage with Isabella. Jerome’s ability to see through Manfred’s deceit, and Manfred’s inability to detect Jerome’s foreshadows the novel’s later revelation of their true natures, Jerome as a noble and Manfred as a false king.
Seething over the false information Jerome gave him, Manfred has the peasant brought from his room to the 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 whom she had been talking the night before, Matilda is stunned to realize that the peasant looks exactly like the painting of Alfonso that Bianca had teased her about. Manfred, who is furious about the peasant’s supposed love for Isabella, sentences Theodore to death. Overhearing the sentence, Matilda faints, causing Bianca to scream out, “The princess is dead!” Manfred dismisses her “womanish panic” and has Theodore brought out to the court for his execution. Resigned but dignified, Theodore accepts his impending execution but asks for a confessor.
That Theodore looks exactly like Alfonso, Otranto’s last king before the rise of Manfred’s line, foreshadows his eventual ascension to power. That Theodore is a doppelganger is of little surprise in a work of Gothic fiction – where such things are common –but unlike most doppelgangers, Theodore is good, rather than evil. Just as they were in the first chapter, Manfred angrily delivers Theodore an unjust sentence, and Theodore accepts it with grace and resignation. The contrast between the two represents the fundamental differences of their natures, which contradict their social roles at the moment. Theodore behaves like a noble and will later become ruler, whereas Manfred, who behaves poorly, will later lose his power, which he only gained illegitimately.
When Jerome arrives as a confessor, he realizes that he inadvertently put Theodore in danger. Remorseful, he confesses to fabricating a relationship between Isabella and Theodore, which further angers Manfred. As Theodore kneels down to be executed, his shirt slips over his shoulder and uncovers a birthmark. Jerome recognizes the mark and reveals that he is Theodore’s long-lost father and was previously the Count of Falconara. Manfred promises to spare Jerome’s son if he brings Isabella back to the castle. Theodore nobly but impetuously declares he is prepared to sacrifice his life. Before Jerome can respond either to Manfred or to Theodore, they are interrupted by the sound of a trumpet outside the castle gate. At the same time, the feathers of the giant helmet bow down by themselves.
This is the first of the novel’s revelations of long-lost fathers and secret identities. Theodore, whose behavior has been described as above his social standing as a peasant, is now revealed to be of noble lineage, suggesting that manners and morals are determined by blood. Manfred, who has exhibited wildly unjust behavior, is by implication, perhaps not of noble blood. The interruption of Theodore’s execution is, much like Isabella’s escape, facilitated by the appearance of the supernatural. Just as his hunt for Isabella was thwarted by divine will, so is Manfred’s decision to execute the true ruler of Otranto.