Ideas for Analyzing The Castle of Otranto

Robert Harris
Version Date: May 29, 2000

Questions for Further Investigation and Analysis

1. How does Walpole attempt to round Manfred's character? Manfred is often described as flying into a rage, and he usually acts like a tyrant. But Walpole tries to balance or round these wild traits somewhat. What passages can you identify where he does this?

2. What passages can you point to that reveal the influence of the interest in sentimentalism during this period in English literary history?

3. Discuss the theme of the "tyrannical male" in the novel. Which characters and which actions supply examples?

4. The speeches in the novel have been described as embarrassingly stilted and unnatural. True or false? Discuss.

5. As the Gothic novel developed, some writers (such as Ann Radcliffe, for example) stressed mysterious events that appeared to be supernatural but which later proved to be natural (for example, the mysterious light in the window was not a ghost but a servant with a candle feeding a secret prisoner). Which mysterious events in Otranto are truly supernatural and which are only apparently so? Which do you find more effective in terms of their mystery or their scariness? Why?

6. How would you describe the religious nature of the book? In his first preface, Walpole pretends it was written by a Catholic. Would you describe the book as Catholic? Christian? Religious? Anti-religious? A bizarre mixture? Think about the presence of piety, religion, superstition, and an obsession with fate and omens. Can a coherent system be discerned from all these? Can the characters' personal belief systems be discerned?

Ideas for Computer Analysis

The Castle of Otranto is divided into five chapters of uneven length, so using chapter divisions will yield a less-than-satisfactory graph. If you are using MTAS or other software that allows division by lines, you might choose 100 lines to represent segments. If you are dividing the text by word segments, then 1000 words will give you about 34 segments.

1. Trace the emotion of unhappiness in the novel. Where are the peaks and where the valleys? That is, where is the language of unhappiness concentrated? Look for unhappiness-related words such as affliction, despair, woes, suffer, agony, despairing, tears, woe, grief, afflicted, sorrow, weep, disconsolate, melancholy, unhappy, wretched, misfortune, misfortunes, anguish, sigh, hopeless, dismal, sorrows, sadly, miserable, mournfully. As you read through the text, circle the words related to this theme and make a list of unique words. Remember to include variants as separate entries (woe, woes, for example). When you have your graph, return to the text to locate the thematic context. Do you find the peaks of unhappiness at expected or unexpected places?

2. Take one of the themes from the article, "Elements of the Gothic Novel" and graph it. Think about graphing more than one theme at the same time to see if there is a correlation or an inverse relationship.

3. What is the role of questions in the novel? This analysis can be performed using only a word processor. Search for the question mark. When you find a question, examine its location and function. When you have done this throughout the novel, use your inductive skills to come to some conclusions.

4. What is the role of fate in the novel? Does reference to fate increase, decrease, or remain the same throughout? What is the significance of your findings? Look for fate-related words such as fate, destiny, destined, omen, omens, doom, doomed, portent, portents, prophecy.

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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com