The Castle of Otranto | Study Guide

Horace Walpole

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The Castle of Otranto | Chapter 2 | Summary



Chapter 2 begins with Matilda in her room, feeling ill at ease. Matilda is wondering why Isabella has run off and why her father would call for the chaplain with such urgency. Matilda is used to Manfred being cruel to her, but she can hardly bear his recent cruelty to her mother. Her attendant, Bianca, tries to comfort Matilda by saying Manfred may possibly be looking for a husband for her, since she is his sole heir now. Matilda, however, longs to enter a convent. While Matilda and Bianca are talking, they hear someone's voice rising up from the chamber below Matilda's rooms, which are on the right-hand side of the tower. Bianca thinks the voice is coming from the ghost of Conrad's tutor, who committed suicide by drowning. Then they hear the voice singing.

From the window, they speak to the voice, and, indeed, someone who introduces himself as a stranger is there. The stranger sounds pious and sad, and Bianca assumes the stranger's unhappiness must have something to do with love. Matilda disagrees and says unhappiness can come from other sources besides lovesickness.

Matilda, who pretends to be one of her mother's servants, quickly figures out that the stranger speaking to her from the window below is actually the peasant her father imprisoned earlier in the day. Matilda is taken with the peasant's gentle manner of speaking and his pious words about heaven and prayers. Hoping to help him, Matilda instructs him to find Father Jerome in the church of St. Nicholas when he is released from the castle. She will see that Hippolita helps him.

The peasant begins to ask a question about the woman he helped earlier—Isabella. Because Matilda does not know why Isabell fled, she is suddenly afraid that the peasant could be an enemy to her father and shuts the window. Bianca raises suspicions about Isabella and the peasant being lovers. Bianca also believes the peasant probably is a magician and has something to do with Conrad's death. Matilda scolds Bianca for being disloyal to Isabella. Matilda is certain that "[w]hatever be the cause of Isabella's flight, it had no unworthy motive." Matilda also says that if Isabella trusted the stranger, then so does Matilda. As for magic, Matilda scolds Bianca for trying to "resolve everything" by assuming magic is involved. "A man, who has ... intercourse with infernal spirits" would not be able to speak "those tremendous and holy words, which he uttered," Matilda insists. During their conversation a servant arrives and informs Matilda that Isabella is with Father Jerome at the church of St. Nicholas.

The narrative then backtracks to when Manfred wakes up early to continue looking for Isabella and, subsequently, asks Hippolita where Isabella is. However, they are interrupted by the news that Father Jerome would like to speak to Manfred immediately. Manfred thinks the friar wants to see his wife and bids him come in. Instead, Father Jerome announces that Isabella wishes to no longer be a part of Manfred's family and that she is hiding in a sanctuary awaiting news from her father. Manfred tries to argue with Father Jerome, sensing the friar knows of his plan to marry Isabella and disapproves on religious grounds, which Jerome does, but neither character speaks explicitly because Hippolita is there. Of Isabella, Manfred declares that "I am her parent ... and demand her.

Sensing something is amiss, Hippolita says, "It is my duty to hear nothing that it pleases not my lord I should hear" and retreats to her apartment. Left alone with the friar, Manfred questions him about the possibility of divorcing Hippolita and marrying Isabella. Father Jerome tells Manfred the marriage would be impossible. Manfred also broaches the idea of giving Hippolita a lot of money to donate to the convent where she will live after the divorce. Jerome, not tempted by money, stands his ground, calling Manfred's intention to divorce Hippolita "adulterous" and his pursuit of Isabella "incestuous."

Manfred tries another angle to get Father Jerome on his side. He declares that for "some time" he has doubted "the legality of [their] union" as Hippolita is related to him "in the fourth degree." Manfred's other doubt about the marriage stems from Hippolita being promised to another man before she married Manfred. Perhaps Conrad's death is a punishment for their "unlawful wedlock," Manfred suggests. Father Jerome sees through Manfred's attempt to manipulate him, but the friar knows he must distract Manfred by giving him false hope. The friar fears Manfred will find another woman, who is unable to defend herself, to unleash his passions on. The friar tells Manfred to allow the church to consider the matter, which does give Manfred some hope. Next, Manfred asks the friar if he knows anything about the peasant who helped Isabella escape, inquiring, "Is he her lover?" Thinking it may cause Manfred to lose interest in Isabella, Father Jerome intentionally sets a seed of jealousy in Manfred's mind by answering "in a manner to confirm ... the belief of some connection between Isabella and the youth."

Manfred, infuriated, leaves Father Jerome and summons the peasant. Manfred questions him about his intentions with Isabella. The peasant, who is revealed to be Theodore, claims innocence and says that he just met Isabella. Matilda and Bianca, on their way to visit Hippolita, overhear Manfred interrogating Theodore. Manfred declares that Theodore will be executed immediately, and Matilda faints.

Theodore, awaiting execution, asks for a confessor, so he can "make his peace with heaven." Manfred mistakenly believes Father Jerome is on his side and sends him to Theodore. Father Jerome realizes it is his fault Theodore is about to die and begs Manfred to pardon Theodore. Theodore unbuttons his collar for his beheading, revealing a birthmark in the shape of a bloody arrow, and Father Jerome realizes Theodore is his son. The gathered crowd feels pity and empathy for Theodore and Father Jerome, who have obviously been separated from each other and are now reunited. Father Jerome reveals he is, in addition to being a friar, the Count of Falconara, which means Theodore is a nobleman. After hearing the pleas of the crowd along with Father Jerome's pleas, Manfred agrees to spare Theodore's life as long as Father Jerome makes Isabella heed Manfred's will. The chapter ends with the sound of a trumpet.


Theodore, who is first introduced as the peasant, is one of the few morally upright characters in the novel. For his moral behavior he is locked in a tower, a symbol the contemporary reader may see as phallic and connected to Manfred's domination and control. However, the symbolism the tower will represent within the scope of the novel is just now being introduced and used for foreshadowing in this chapter. This is Matilda and Theodore's first conversation and first spark of love, and it takes place in the castle's dark tower. Through Matilda's goodness, Theodore will eventually be released from the tower, but Theodore's release, though it will lead to the restoration of his true identity, only causes future problems for the characters who have romantic tragedies in their future.

The Castle of Otranto is full of biblical and Christian religious allusions. This chapter ends with the sound of a trumpet. In the Bible the sound of a trumpet is used to announce the apocalyptic return of Christ. In this instance, it represents the beginning of the end of Manfred's reign of terror. In this sense Theodore is cast as a moral Christ-like figure, returning to his rightful place to right a longstanding wrong: Manfred's illegitimate rule.

Manfred's evil behavior becomes a trope (a figurative idea that recurs or is common in literature) in itself. It is darkly humorous how frequently he does the opposite of what is considered good behavior. His lack of recognition builds on itself, eventually becoming absurd. Evil is farcical and goodness is chivalric. By furthering both categories into the absurd, they begin to dissolve into each other, reflecting an overall darkness to the novel. There is no relief from a performance of goodness, much like there is nothing to be gained through evil.

Like Friar Lawrence in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, here, Father Jerome's meddling creates unnecessary potential for tragedy when he is trying to be helpful: he lies to Manfred and says there is a romantic connection between Theodore and Isabella. Walpole is mimicking Shakespeare's logic: a corrupt (dishonest) friar will bring serious consequences. Father Jerome sows the seed here. Unlike in Romeo and Juliet, this produces immediate negative consequences because Manfred decides to execute the peasant (Theodore) on the spot. Even worse, Father Jerome sees the effect his lying renders: he has unintentionally sentenced his own son to death.

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