Here you can find an artistic interpretation of what happens in The Castle of Otranto. While the first snippets of text may not be in English, meaning is still conveyed poignantly.
In the Gothic it is not what happens but how it happens. We are often given the entire plot or at least foreshadowing of it in the first chapters of most Gothic novels.
The Castle of Otranto was written as a novel with an elaborate framing device. One unique quirk of this Gothic novel that set the standard for many other Gothic texts that would follow (such as Dracula, and The Monk) is the tendency to write the work as another author within the text. This gives the unique effect of a story within a story. The Castle of Otranto in particular was written by Walpole, under the pseudonym “William Marshall Gent.” with the premise that it originally came from the 12th century monk Onuphrio Muralto. The monk supposedly composed his narrative based on a tale taken from the time of the crusades. This particular framing was highly complex as the result was a text from an impersonated 18th century gentleman, impersonating a militant 16th century priest, who made narrative of a tale from the 12th century (Gamer 16). Some critics during that time balked at his supposition and during the second edition of the text released by Walpole, this supposition was recanted and the work told to be a fabrication of what we know today in literary terms as magical realism.
Elements of the Gothic Novel
Version Date: June 15, 2015
The gothic novel was invented almost single-handedly by Horace Walpole, whose The Castle of Otranto (1764) contains essentially all the elements that constitute the genre. Walpole’s novel was imitated not only in the eighteenth century and not only in the novel form, but it has influenced the novel, the short story, poetry, and even film making up to the present day.
Gothic elements include the following:
1. Setting in a castle. The action takes place in and around an old castle, sometimes seemingly abandoned, sometimes occupied. The castle often contains secret passages, trap doors, secret rooms,trick panels with hidden levers, dark or hidden staircases, and possibly ruined sections.
The castle may be near or connected to caves, which lend their own haunting flavor with their darkness, uneven floors, branchings, claustrophobia, and mystery. And in horror-gothic, caves are often seem home to terrifying creatures such as monsters, or deviant forms of humans: vampires, zombies, wolfmen.
Translated into the modern novel or filmmaking, the setting might be in an old house or mansion–or even a new house–where unusual camera angles, sustained close ups during movement, and darkness or shadows create the same sense of claustrophobia and entrapment. The house might be already dark, perhaps because it was abandoned, or it might at first seem light and airy, but either night comes and people turn off the lights to go to bed, or at some dramatic point the lights will fail (often because of a raging storm).
The goal of the dark and mysterious setting is to create a sense of unease and foreboding, contributing toward the atmospheric element of fear and dread. Darkness also allows those sudden and frightening appearance of people, animals, or monsters.
2.An atmosphere of mystery and suspense.The work is pervaded by a threatening feeling, a fear enhanced by the unknown. This atmosphere is sometimes advanced when characters see only a glimpse of something–was that a person rushing out the window or only the wind blowing a curtain? Is that creaking sound coming from someone’s step on the squeaky floor, or only the normal sounds of the night? Often the plot itself is built around a mystery, such as unknown parentage, a disappearance, or some other inexplicable event. People disappear or show up dead inexplicably. Elements 3, 4, and 5 below contribute to this atmosphere.
In modern novels and film-making, the inexplicable events are often murders. The bodies are sometimes mutilated in ways that defy explanation–“What kind of monster could do this?” or “Here’s the body, but there’s no blood.” When the corpses start to mount, suspense is raised as to who will get killed next. (In film-making, the atmosphere can be created largely by the music. Anyone who has watched a horror movie with the sound off or very low knows this.)
3. An ancient prophecy is connected with the castle or its inhabitants (either former or present). The prophecy is usually obscure, partial, or confusing. “What could it mean?” In more watered down modern examples, this may amount to merely a legend: “It’s said that the ghost of old man Krebs still wanders these halls.”
4. Omens, portents, visions. A character may have a disturbing dream vision, or some phenomenon may be seen as a portent of coming events. For example, if the statue of the lord of the manor falls over, it may portend his death. In modern fiction, a character might see something (a shadowy figure stabbing another shadowy figure) and think that it was a dream. This might be thought of as an “imitation vision.” Sometimes an omen will be used for foreshadowing, while other writers will tweak the reader by denying expectation–what we thought was foreshadowing wasn’t.
5. Supernatural or otherwise inexplicable events. Dramatic, amazing events occur, such as ghosts or giants walking, or inanimate objects (such as a suit of armor or painting) coming to life. In some works, the events are ultimately given a natural explanation, while in others the events are truly supernatural. As you might imagine, Hollywood uses special effects to a large degree to provide fire, earthquakes, moving statues, and so forth, often blurring the line between human-produced, natural, and supernatural events.
6. High, even overwrought emotion. The narration may be highly sentimental, and the characters are often overcome by anger, sorrow, surprise, and especially, terror. Characters suffer from raw nerves and a feeling of impending doom. Crying and emotional speeches are frequent. Breathlessness and panic are common. In the filmed gothic, screaming is common.
7. Women in distress. As an appeal to the pathos and sympathy of the reader, the female characters often face events that leave them fainting, terrified, screaming, and/or sobbing. A lonely, pensive, and oppressed heroine is often the central figure of the novel, so her sufferings are even more pronounced and the focus of attention. The women suffer all the more because they are often abandoned, left alone (either on purpose or by accident), and have no protector at times. (In horror-gothic films, when the guy tells the girl, “Stay here; I’ll be right back,” you pretty much know that one of them will soon be dead.)
8. Women threatened by a powerful, impulsive, tyrannical male. One or more male characters has the power, as king, lord of the manor, father, or guardian, to demand that one or more of the female characters do something intolerable. The woman may be commanded to marry someone she does not love (it may even be the powerful male himself), or commit a crime. In modern gothic novels and films, there is frequently the threat of physical violation.
9. The metonymy of gloom and horror. Metonymy is a subtype of metaphor, in which something (like rain) is used to stand for something else (like sorrow). For example, the film industry likes to use metonymy as a quick shorthand, so we often notice that it is raining in funeral scenes. (This explains why they never oil the hinges on the doors in gothic novels.) Note that the following metonymies for “doom and gloom” all suggest some element of mystery, danger, or the supernatural.
wind, especially howling, rain, especially blowing
doors grating on rusty hinges, sighs, moans, howls, eerie sounds
footsteps approaching, clanking chains,lights in abandoned rooms,gusts of wind blowing out lights
characters trapped in a room doors suddenly slamming shut
ruins of buildings, baying of distant dogs (or wolves?)
thunder and lightning crazed laughter
10. The vocabulary of the gothic. The constant use of the appropriate vocabulary set creates and sustains the atmosphere of the gothic. Using the right words maintains the dark-and-stimulated feel that defines the gothic. Here as an example are some of the words (in several categories) that help make up the vocabulary of the gothic in The Castle of Otranto:
diabolical, enchantment, ghost, goblins, haunted, infernal, magic, magician, miracle, necromancer, omens, ominous, portent, preternatural, prodigy, prophecy, secret, sorcerer, spectre, spirits, strangeness, talisman, vision
Fear, Terror, or Sorrow
afflicted, affliction, agony, anguish, apprehensions, apprehensive, commiseration, concern, despair, dismal, dismay, dread, dreaded, dreading, fearing, frantic, fright, frightened, grief, hopeless, horrid, horror, lamentable, melancholy, miserable, mournfully, panic, sadly, scared, shrieks, sorrow, sympathy, tears, terrible, terrified, terror, unhappy, wretched
alarm, amazement, astonished, astonishment, shocking, staring, surprise, surprised, thunderstruck, wonder
anxious, breathless, flight, frantic, hastened, hastily, impatience, impatient, impatiently, impetuosity, precipitately, running, sudden, suddenly
anger, angrily, choler, enraged, furious, fury, incense, incensed, provoked, rage, raving, resentment, temper, wrath, wrathful, wrathfully
enormous, gigantic, giant, large, tremendous, vast
dark, darkness, dismal, shaded, black, night