The giant suit of armor that appears in pieces throughout the story serves to fulfill the prophecy given to Manfred’s grandfather by St. Nicholas: “the Castle and Lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it.” The armor that used to belong to Alfonso’s statue literally becomes too big for the castle, making it a very literal symbol of Nicholas’s prophecy and suggesting that Manfred’s rule will soon end. As the herald of Manfred’s downfall, each appearance by the giant suit of armor in some way thwarts Manfred’s plans: the giant casque or helmet crushes Conrad to death shortly before the wedding that will cement his family’s power; the giant foot and leg in armor interrupts Diego and Jaquez’s search for Isabella, allowing her more time to escape from Manfred; the giant hand and arm in armor stops Bianca from spying on Isabella at Manfred’s behest; and the giant sabre or sword contains a prophecy that leads to Frederic’s arrival, which interrupts Manfred from executing Theodore, the true heir to Otranto.
The armor, as a kind of embodiment of St. Nicholas’s prophecy, also represents the hand of God in determining the fates of the characters and (in an example of Walpole’s tongue-in-cheek humor) literally includes a giant hand that helps influence the course of events in the narrative. The way the armor thwarts Manfred thus further emphasize Manfred’s descent into evil, and, conversely, Alfonso’s link to heaven.
The Giant Suit of Armor Quotes in The Castle of Otranto
The Castle and Lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it.
In vain did Manfred’s friends endeavour to divert him from this savage and ill-grounded resolution. The generality were charmed with their lord’s decision, which, to their apprehensions, carried great appearance of justice; as the magician was to be punished by the very instrument with which he had offended: nor were they struck with the least compunction at the probability of the youth being starved; for they firmly believed, that, by his diabolical skill, he could easily supply himself with nutriment.
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.
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.
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.
Where’er a casque that suits this sword is found,
With perils is thy daughter compass’ed round;
Alfonso’s blood alone can save the maid,
And quiet a long restless prince’s shade.
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.