Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Close Reading Questions for Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (pp.5-53—Prefaces and Chapters 1-2)
1. In the Preface to the First Edition (1764), Walpole (pretending to be merely the translator of an obscure Italian work) writes, “Belief in every kind of prodigy was so established in those dark ages, that an author would not be faithful to the manners of the times who should omit all mention of them” (6). What do you think he means by this statement, considering the work was not written in the Middle Ages, and is the product of his own fanciful imagination? What “manners” do you think he is trying to be faithful to in his work, and how might his Preface prepare us to read it?
2. In the Second Preface, Walpole writes that is trying “to blend the two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern” (9). In saying this, he is trying to reconcile the modern romance (the novel), which was about real people in domestic situations, and the ancient romance, which was about supernatural wonders and heroism. How do the first two chapters seem to balance the mundane and the supernatural? Does the novel retain any element of “reality” amidst all the gigantic helmets and weeping portraits? Cite a specific passage in your response.
3. Discuss the use of dialogue in the novel, which has been called both “accurate and elegant” (Appendix, 118) as well as hopelessly stilted. Why does he rely so much on the interaction between various characters (often master and servant) when this dialogue is often merely expository? What does the dialogue do for the story?
4. In what way might The Castle of Otranto be considered Shakespearean? For example, Shakespeare also modeled most of his plays on old histories or romances (Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, etc.), yet “modernized” them for his audience. How might Walpole be doing much the same—and what strikes you as Shakespearean about this work, whether in language or intent? Again, cite a specific example or two in your response.