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.
The Divine vs. The Mundane ThemeTracker
The Divine vs. The Mundane 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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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!