The Castle of Otranto


Horace Walpole

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Themes and Colors
Humor, the Gothic, and the Supernatural Theme Icon
The Divine vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Lineage and Leadership Theme Icon
Class, Comedy, and Tragedy Theme Icon
Gender and Marriage Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Castle of Otranto, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Humor, the Gothic, and the Supernatural

Much of what characterizes Gothic literature has to do with setting. As what might be described as the “grandfather” of Gothic literature, Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto displays many of the features that would become stereotypically Gothic. For example, the story takes place in a foreign country, in a medieval castle with towers and secret passageways. The castle is eerie and ominous, plagued by creaking hinges, trap doors clanging shut, the wailing of the wind…

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The Divine vs. The Mundane

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…

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Lineage and Leadership

The Castle of Otranto is deeply concerned with paternity and its relation to political rule. The novel presents three major revelations about lineage, the consequences of which drive the plot forward. The first revelation is that of Theodore’s paternity. Shortly before Theodore is to be executed, Jerome recognizes him as his son and thus as a member of the noble house of Falconara. Not only does this new information determine many of Jerome’s decisions regarding…

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Class, Comedy, and Tragedy

In the second preface to The Castle of Otranto, Walpole acknowledges his authorship of the work and defends his use of both comedy and tragedy, elements that are tied to the story’s two classes of people. Modeling his mixture of comedy and tragedy on that of Shakespeare’s plays, the lower class characters are associated with comedy and the upper class characters with tragedy.

The peasants, such as Bianca and Diego, are often portrayed…

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Gender and Marriage

A recurring element in The Castle of Otranto is the female characters’ absolute devotion to their husbands and fathers. For example, despite her husband’s temper and repeated rejections of her, Hippolita is entirely devoted to Manfred. Even when presented with Manfred’s sins, betrayals, and intention to marry their ward and former daughter-in-law-to-be Isabella, Hippolita passively agrees to Manfred’s demand for a divorce and refuses to acknowledge Manfred’s wrongdoing. Both Matilda and Isabella are…

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