In The Castle of Otranto, recognized as the first gothic novel, Horace Walpole combines supernatural occurrences and heroic behaviors associated with the Romantic tradition to tell the story of Manfred, prince of Otranto, whose zeal for satisfying his own lusts for power and sexual gratification lead to his downfall. The tale opens on the wedding day of Manfred’s son Conrad, who is betrothed to the countess Isabella. Before the ceremony, a giant helmet falls from a parapet, crushing Conrad. A peasant, Theodore, claims that the helmet is like that on the statue of the good Prince Alonso; angered, Manfred has Theodore imprisoned.

Manfred then concocts a scheme to be divorced from his wife, Hippolita, and marry Isabella himself. Isabella is repulsed by the idea and flees into a passage beneath the castle; there she meets Theodore, who has escaped from imprisonment. He helps Isabella make her way to a nearby church. Manfred recaptures Theodore, but as he accosts him, word comes that a giant is sleeping in the castle.

The next day, Father Jerome comes to inform Manfred that Isabella is safe in the church. Manfred uses the occasion to suggest his divorce and remarriage. Father Jerome is horrified, particularly because he believes Isabella is in love with someone else. Thinking Theodore is his rival, Manfred orders him executed, but when Father Jerome discovers a strange mark on the young man, he announces that Theodore is really his own lost son…


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…

So what happened? Do these summaries reveal all that took place? No! So read the full story in full or conclude from the synopses in coming posts.



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