Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Close Reading Questions for Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (pp.5-53—Prefaces and Chapters 1-2)

Answer TWO of the following...

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.


  1. Heather Moreno

    1. The situation Princess Isabella finds herself could be seen as a reality of the time. Her wedding day was delayed (permanently to her groom Conrad) and while she is dealing with the shock of his death and helping Hippolita, whom she has daughterly affections for, the man who should be treating her as a daughter sees her as his chance to further his bloodline. The treatment of Hippolita by Manfred is also realistic. Why keep a barren older wife around when there are pretty young ladies to conquer? Not only does this capture the reality well, in my opinion, but pages 24-26 (the exchanges between Manfred and Isabella) have more of a sense of terror than the giant killer helmet.

    3. I think the way the characters speak, especially the servants with their more unrefined ways, furthers the illusion of this being a real account. Pages 41-43 have a lengthy exchange with Bianca and Matilda. The servant, Bianca often goes on long tangent, away from the point – especially when Theodore is the topic – and gives her that very real quality of a young girl from long ago that was given to fanciful daydreams. However, reading from the Gothic Tradition as well, and reading Walpole's views on women, as writers, readers and thinkers, it is hard to judge how accurate this style of dialogue is for the women or servant girls.

  2. Heather, I loved your point about Manfred being more terrifying than the giant killer helmet! (of course, I really do see that whole giant foot or finger from heaven in Monty Python here!)
    But seriously.. he really was a terrifying person who I think is capable of some pretty deplorable actions!

    Totally agree also that the manner of speaking does keep the illusion of being a real account.
    The dialogues between Bianca and Matilda reminded me alot of the nurse and Juliette in Romeo and Juliette. It shows how the nurse/maid relationships with the children of nobility were very strong relationships (in many ways, perhaps stronger than the relationships of the parents with their children.)

    Thanks for these comments you posted, they really do add alot more depth to the process! It's nice to read another's thoughts on the stories.