Castle Of Otranto Themes

What are the themes in Horace Walpole's The Castle of Ortranto? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Castle of Ortranto is widely recognized as the first gothic novel; in fact, some literary experts call it the first novel, while others still hold with Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Here are themes in this imaginative tale:

  • Legacy/Burden of the Past 

The story revolves around an ancient prophecy. Prince Manfred's one unhealthy son Conrad hastily marries Isabella in order to maintain the family line because he fears an ancient prophesy: 

That the castle and lordship of Ortranto should pass from the present family whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it.

When Manfred's son dies because a huge helmet, much like the one on a statue of Prince Alfonso in the church, mysteriously falls on him in the castle's courtyard, Manfred decides that he will marry Isabella and divorce his wife who can bear no more children. But Isabella does not want to marry Prince Manfred, and instead escapes with the true heir, Theodore. Manfred, then, tries to have him killed, but when a mark near his shoulder identifies him to Father Jerome, the priest begs the prince to spare his life. Eventually, after Manfred is forced to abdicate Theodore is restored as Prince. 

  • Terror

There are a number of supernatural occurrences as pictures move, doors suddenly close on their own, along with fantastical situations and exaggerated human emotions.

  • Tragedies of Blood

The next generation, Theodore and Isabella fight with the patriarchal order and must forge something different and meaningful in their lives. Tragically, Prince Manfred later mistakenly slays his own daughter Matilda.

In the morning Manfred signed his abdication of the principality, with the approbation of Hippolita...Frederic offered his daughter to the new prince...but Theodore's grief was too fresh...and it was not till after frequent discourses with isabella...that he was persuaded h could know no happiness but in the society of one with whom he could forever indulge the melancholy that had taken possession of his soul.