The Castle of Otranto
The author of Arcadia, Tom Stoppard, uses a lot of irony and incorporates a web of relationships and coincidences into his plays that can get a bit confusing, especially if you are not familiar with the things that he makes reference to. In the play, on page thirteen, Lady Croom, Thomasina’s mother, compares Mr. Noakes’ landscape style to that of Ann Radcliffe’s and Horace Walpole’s imagery, both of which were Gothic novelists of the eighteenth century. The author’s purpose in including this bit is interesting, especially if you are familiar with the novels he refers to. Here’s some help:
This novel was first published in 1764. The plot takes place in Italy in the Twelfth century. The main characters of the book include: Manfred, the illegitimate Prince of Otranto; Hippolita, Manfred’s wife; Matilda, 18, Manfred’s daughter; Conrad, 15, Manfred’s son – “the darling of his father”; Isabella, Conrad’s fiance; Father Jerome, a priest; Theodore, a young peasant and the actual Prince of Otranto; and the Knight of the Gigantic Saber, Isabella’s father.
Manfred, the illegal prince of Otranto, arranged a marriage between his young son, Conrad, and the daughter of the Marquis of Vicanza, Isabella. The people of the town attributed the marriage of Conrad at such a young age to Manfred’s fear of an ancient prophecy. The prophecy stated that the Castle and Lordship of Otranto should pass from the present family whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it.
On the day of the wedding, a large helmet appeared in the courtyard of the castle. When the family and all the guests saw the helmet, they noticed Conrad, crushed, underneath it. Theodore noticed that the helmet looked like the one on the statue of Prince Alfonso the Good. Another peasant rushed to the chapel to compare the two helmets. When he returned he told the crowd that the helmet was missing from Prince Alfonso’s head. Manfred accused Theodore of being a magician and murdering the heir to Otranto.
When evening came Manfred told Isabella of his plans to divorce Hippolita and marry her in hopes that he might have a male heir. Having been told all this, Isabella ran away through the underground tunnels of the castle. In no time she was lost, but she found Theodore in the tunnels and he helped her find her way out to a nearby church. Manfred searched for the missing Isabella and instead found Theodore in the underground passage. He threatened Theodore for assisting Isabella. As this was happening, Manfred’s servants told him that there was a giant sleeping in the hall. Manfred went out to investigate, but the giant had already left.
Father Jerome came by the next day to tell Manfred and Hippolita that Isabella had taken sanctuary in the church. Manfred took Jerome aside and asked him if he would help him divorce his wife and marry Isabella. Father Jerome avoided this by informing Manfred that Isabella might be in love with Theodore.
Manfred confronted his prisoner who said he helped Isabella escape but he had never seen her. Manfred called for Theodore’s immediate execution and Father Jerome was brought in to give absolution to Theodore. In preparation for his execution, Theodore’s collar was loosened revealing a birthmark. Theodore’s birthmark meant that he was Father Jerome’s son. Theodore was born before Jerome entered the church. Manfred offered to stay the execution on the condition that Father Jerome would hand Isabella over to him.
The Knight of the Gigantic Saber, the rightful heir of Otranto, arrived at the castle gates. He demanded that Isabella be released and that Manfred give up the throne. If Manfred did not, then the Knight wanted the satisfaction of a fight to the death. Manfred invited the knight into the castle. He hoped to get permission from the Knight of the Gigantic Saber to marry Isabella and keep his throne at Otranto. The knight entered the castle with five hundred armed men and one hundred more carrying a gigantic sword.
That evening Manfred asked the knight if he could marry Isabella. Father Jerome ran in at this time and announced the disappearance of Isabella. Once everyone left to search for Isabella, Matilda found Theodore and helped him escape from the castle.
Theodore found Isabella in the forest and promised to protect her. A while later they come upon the Knight of the Gigantic Saber. To protect Isabella, Theodore fought with the Knight and almost killed him. Thinking he was about to die the Knight told Isabella that he was her father disguised as the Knight.
Isabella, her father, and Theodore returned to the castle. Isabella’s father told her that he had found the gigantic sword in the Holy Land. On the blade of the weapon it was written that only the blood of Manfred could reconcile the things committed against the true ruler of Otranto. When Manfred returned to the castle, he found Theodore dressed in armor. Manfred noticed that dressed as he was, Theodore looked like the prince he had seized Otranto from.
Manfred still wished to marry Isabella and he was able to get her father’s consent. Manfred did so by betrothing the Knight to Matilda. As the arrangements were being made, blood dripped from the nose of a statue. The bleeding statue was an omen that the proposed marriages were doomed.
Manfred believed he had two choices; he could either give up Otranto or marry Isabella as planned. Whatever he did, Manfred believed that fate was against him. A second appearance of the sleeping giant in the castle hall did not help to put Manfred at ease. When Isabella’s father heard of the giant, he decided that not only would he not marry Matilda, but he would not allow Manfred to marry Isabella. His resolution was increased when a skeleton dressed in rags advised that he not marry Matilda.
Later that day Manfred heard news of Theodore in the chapel with a woman. Manfred was jealous and went to the chapel and stabbed the woman, who turned out to be his daughter, Matilda. Theodore proclaimed, over the dead body of Matilda, that he was the true Prince of Otranto. At that moment the giant form of the dead prince of Alfonso appeared and announced that Theodore was the rightful heir of Otranto. Then Alfonso ascended to heaven and was received by St. Nicholas.
Theodore was the son of Father Jerome, then prince of Falconara, and Prince Alfonso the Good’s daughter. Manfred confessed that he had taken Otranto from Theodore and then he and Hippolita entered neighboring convents. Theodore married Isabella and they lived in Otranto as the prince and princess.
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Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto was the first example of a Gothic novel. Gothic, by definition, is a genre of literature characterized by a brooding, gloomy setting, and mysterious, sinister, or violent events. Lady Croom’s reference to The Castle of Otranto and to The Mysteries of Udolpho, which is another Gothic novel by a later author, Ann Radcliffe, is one technique used by Stoppard to describe Noakes’ style. In 1809 Gothic novels were widely popular so it is safe to assume that all of Stoppard’s seventeenth century characters would have heard of the style and most likely read some Gothic novels. In Otranto, the dark aspects of the imagination found expression. This quote from The Castle of Otranto is a good example of the imagery Walpole used that Lady Croom was inferring when she mentioned it:
“Theodore at length determined to repair to the forest that Matilda had pointed out to him. Arriving there, he sought the gloomiest shades, as best suited to the pleasing melancholy that reigned in his mind. In this mood he roved insensible to the caves which had formerly served as a retreat to hermits, and were now reported round the country to be haunted by evil spirits.”
This dark, gloomy, mysterious forest and, ironically, the hermitage that Walpole describes is part of the gothic style that Lady Croom does not like. Lady Croom prefers the classical English style of endless green meadows, perfectly symmetrical, fenced in gardens, bushes and foliage pruned and sculpted into gum drop shapes, and trees planted in neat, controlled groups.
The author uses numerous methods of conveying to the reader that there are two distinct sides that the characters align themselves upon. This whole conflict relates to one of the themes of Arcadia, which is the characters’ separations over their views of history versus their view of the present. The hermitage is a part of Noakes’ style that Lady Croom, Hannah, and Thomasina would not like. Septimus has the opposite view, but ends up retreating to the hermitage in grief for the loss of Thomasina and remains somewhat guilt-ridden. This is the reason for his contradicting actions. Thomasina’s death caused Septimus to become obsessed with the past: what he could have done differently, what he didn’t do, what Thomasina did not have a chance to do. Her death seemed to extinguish his optimistic perception of the future, and he began to live in the past, from a modest dwelling in a hermitage, where he brooded over his mistakes.
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