The Castle of Otranto | Study Guide

Horace Walpole

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The Castle of Otranto | Chapter 4 | Summary



Isabella, her wounded father, and Theodore arrive at the castle, met by Hippolita and Matilda. They send for a surgeon to help Frederic. Matilda sees Theodore and Isabella together and blushes. The surgeon emerges, saying that Isabella's father, Frederic, is alive and would like to see her. Theodore gazes at Matilda in the way Isabella gazes at Theodore, and Isabella understands Matilda is the one Theodore is pledged to.

Frederic begins to explain how he knew Isabella was in trouble. When he was captured and held prisoner during the Crusades, he had a dream of her in trouble in a castle and was told in the dream to go to Joppa, where he would receive more information. The first opportunity he had, Frederic got away and did as the dream instructed. In Joppa, Frederic met a hermit on his deathbed. The hermit knew his destiny was culminating in this moment—it had been revealed to him years ago by a visitation from the spirit of St. Nicholas. The hermit told Frederic to dig underneath the "seventh tree on the left hand of this poor cave." After the hermit died, Frederic dug in the dirt and unearthed the giant sword the 100 men carried earlier into the castle. Hippolita realizes Frederic's dream means he is "destined by heaven to accomplish the fate that seemed to threaten her house." Hippolita tells Frederic that she respects what he must do and that "mortals must receive ... divine behests with lowliness and submission." Frederic continues his story, repeating the lines of poetry written on the sword, which say that where they find the helmet that matches the giant sword and "thy daughter" in peril, only Alfonso's blood "can save the maid."

Manfred and Father Jerome enter the room. Manfred sees a specter of Alfonso, which horrifies him. Then he realizes it is only Theodore he sees, who, wearing a full set of armor, looks exactly like the portrait of the ancestor that hangs in the castle. Manfred says he suspects Father Jerome is responsible for freeing Theodore and giving him a weapon and suit of armor to wear. Theodore lays down his sword and promises Manfred that he does not intend to harm him. Manfred asks Theodore to tell him his history and how he is connected to Father Jerome. Theodore summarizes the journey he took in search of his father. Frederic speaks in favor of Theodore, calling him "one of the bravest youths on Christian ground" and calls for Theodore to be pardoned. The group retreats to give Frederic some time to rest.

Theodore goes with Father Jerome to the convent, while Matilda and Isabella go their separate ways, each occupied with thoughts of Theodore. The next morning Matilda and Isabella, both in the grip of jealousy, seek each other out to discern information about Theodore from each other. Isabella desires Theodore and plans to encourage Matilda to join the convent. Once they are together, the two women try to mask their true feelings until Isabella relents and tells Matilda it is clear that Theodore wants Matilda. The women argue back and forth, each saying they will give him up for the other. This continues until they feel like good friends again.

Hippolita enters and tells Matilda it is likely she is to marry Frederic, Isabella's father. Hippolita suggested the idea, and Manfred is on his way to see if Frederic agrees. It is the only way to save the family. Isabella and Matilda speak up against the idea—and against Manfred—but Hippolita defends Manfred. Isabella becomes furious and tells Hippolita that Manfred plans to divorce her, and both women are shocked by what Isabella reveals. Hippolita continues to defend Manfred while also feeling empathetic toward Isabella. Isabella tells Hippolita that both she and Matilda desire Theodore, but Isabella plans to allow Matilda to marry him. Matilda offers to not marry Theodore in order to serve her mother. Hippolita says Matilda's fate is in her father's hands.

The narrative backtracks to Theodore and Father Jerome meeting at Alfonso the Good's tomb. Theodore, who isn't used to taking advice from his father, is unsure why his father disapproves of his desire to marry Matilda. Father Jerome tells Theodore he is wasting his time pursuing someone whose family is doomed. Father Jerome says, "A tyrant's race must be swept from the earth to the third and fourth generation." Theodore disagrees that heaven would punish the innocent for someone else's crimes simply because of a family connection. Father Jerome is about to tell Theodore a family secret that will inspire him to take "sacred vengeance," but Hippolita enters the convent and interrupts them.

Hippolita tells Father Jerome that she needs his religious counsel about divorcing Manfred. She also tells him of their plan to have Matilda marry Frederic. Father Jerome counsels her, vehemently, against divorcing Manfred.

Meanwhile, Manfred and Frederic discuss the plan that Manfred has concocted for Frederic to marry Matilda and Manfred to marry Isabella, which will unify their houses. Frederic agrees to the plan, and Manfred rushes immediately to find Hippolita but cannot find her in her quarters. He goes to the convent and finds Hippolita talking to Father Jerome. When Manfred tells them that Frederic has accepted the double marriage, "three drops of blood [fall] from the nose of Alfonso's statue." Father Jerome sees it as a sign that Manfred's blood should not mix with Alfonso's descendants. Manfred banishes Father Jerome from the castle and leaves. Hippolita agrees to do what her husband and the church say to do.


Overall, The Castle of Otranto may seem campy to contemporary readers. There are trapdoors, bleeding statues, moving paintings, and supernatural noises. After Walpole, the haunted castle became the most used device in Gothic literature. What was original in Walpole's fiction may also seem cliché to the modern reader. However, it was Walpole's intention to create realistic emotional responses in characters who are enduring extraordinary circumstances, and Chapter 4 delivers. As far as the characters' emotions go, they are quite serious and believable.

Although he has found his long-lost father, Theodore, who is used to being independent, remains aloof when confronted by the judgments of a father figure. Theodore also becomes angry when Father Jerome questions his desire for Matilda. Although Theodore has been reunited with his only family member, he continues to feel isolated, which is realistic. It would be strange and out of character to fabricate familial bonds otherwise. Theodore's response—holding his own emotional ground—shows he has the capacity to grow into loving Matilda deeply. Theodore is constantly misinterpreted and misnamed (first as "the peasant" and then when Manfred confuses Theodore's desires by obsessing over Theodore loving Isabella when he does not). Walpole is quite savvy here, thwarting readers' expectations. When Isabella and Theodore meet in Chapter 1, it seems like the beginning of a love story, but it is not. Walpole does not take the simple and obvious course.

Matilda and Isabella's jealousy over Theodore is believable, too. Their argument is complex, not a slapstick catfight or petty in nature. Their friendship is at stake, and both characters struggle with their newly aroused passion and the damage it could cause. Both characters must fight through a wide range of emotions, and as much as they mirror each other, what each feels is distinguishable from the other.

Even Manfred's reaction to seeing the ghost of Alfonso the Good—though it turns out it is only Theodore in a suit of armor—strikes a believable chord and tugs at the reader's sympathy for the villain who cannot believe his own eyes. Here is another instance in which Manfred cannot interpret the supernatural warning signs. In fact, Manfred should be able to translate the signs better than any other character because he is the one who knows the truth, which will be revealed in Chapter 5 (Manfred's grandfather was a murderer). Perhaps Manfred's intense desire for the signs to not be pointing to his destruction is the very thing that is clouding his vision, which is quite realistic and relatable, from a psychological perspective.

The three drops of blood that emerge from the statue of Alfonso the Good, after Manfred tells Father Jerome that Frederic agreed to marry Matilda, reconnect the novel to the important theme of the church and its Christian morality demonstrated throughout. During this time the number three symbolized the Holy Trinity (Jesus, God, Holy Ghost). The three drops of blood are likely referential to the nearness of a Christian God. This presence is opposed to the work done on earth by the devil. Manfred often acts in devilish ways, but moments like the three drops of blood are reminders that although the world is a place filled with pain, there is hope in the afterlife. Much of Gothic literature adheres to this moral framework.

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