At a Glance

In The Castle of Otranto, the usurper Manfred tries to solidify his position by marrying the young Isabella and producing another male heir. When Isabella's father appears in the guise of the Knight of the Gigantic Sabre, Manfred's plans are foiled.

  • Manfred plans to marry his son Conrad to Isabella. One day, a giant helmet crushes Conrad, and a peasant named Theodore is arrested on suspicion of being a magician.

  • When Manfred tells Isabella that he plans to divorce his wife and marry her in order to have another son, she flees the castle and seeks refuge in a church. He father appears in the guise of the Knight of the Gigantic Sabre.

  • Manfred make a deal with the Knight: the Knight can marry Manfred's daughter, Matilda, if Manfred can marry Isabella. Manfred accidentally kills Matilda, however, and Theodore is revealed to be the true heir to the throne of Otranto.


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Manfred, the prince of Otranto, plans to marry his fifteen-year-old son Conrad to Isabella, the daughter of the marquis of Vicenza. On the day of the wedding, however, a servant runs into the hall and informs the assembled company that a huge helmet has appeared mysteriously in the courtyard of the castle. When Count Manfred and his guests rush into the courtyard, they find Conrad crushed to death beneath a gigantic helmet adorned with waving black plumes. Theodore, a young peasant, declares the helmet is like that on a statue of Prince Alfonso the Good, which stands in the chapel. Another spectator shouts that the helmet is missing from the statue. Prince Manfred imprisons the young peasant as a magician and charges him with the murder of the heir to Otranto.

That evening, Manfred sends for Isabella. He informs her that he intends to divorce his wife so that he himself might marry her and have another male heir. Frightened, Isabella runs away and loses herself in the passages beneath the castle. There she encounters Theodore, who helps her to escape through an underground passage into a nearby church. Manfred, searching for the girl, accuses the young man of aiding her. As he is threatening Theodore, servants rush up to tell the prince of a giant who is sleeping in the great hall of the castle. When Manfred returns to the hall, the giant disappears.

The following morning, Father Jerome comes to inform Manfred and his wife that Isabella took sanctuary at the altar of his church. Sending his wife away, Manfred calls on the priest to help him divorce his wife and marry Isabella. Father Jerome refuses, warning Manfred that heaven will punish him for harboring such thoughts. The priest unthinkingly suggests Isabella might be in love with the handsome young peasant who aided in her escape.

Manfred, enraged at the possibility, confronts Theodore. Although the young man does not deny having aided the princess, he claims never to have seen her before. The frustrated Manfred orders him to the courtyard to be executed, and Father Jerome is called to give absolution to the condemned man; however, when the collar of the lad is loosened, the priest discovers a birthmark that proves the young peasant to be Father Jerome’s son, born before the priest entered the Church. Manfred offers to stay the execution if the priest will deliver Isabella to him. At that...

(The entire section is 974 words.)