Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements for “The Castle of Otranto” by Horace Walpole that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes in “The Castle of Otranto” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of the gothic tale “The Castle of Otranto” in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “The Castle of Otranto” at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Role of Women in The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
There is no doubt that Manfred mistreats the women in his life, in Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. When Conrad dies, he demands a divorce from Hippolita, and then tells Isabella that he will marry her to produce an heir, no matter what she wishes. This is a vile act on Manfred’s part, as Hippolita has just watched her son die, and Isabella has lost her future husband. Manfred lowers himself even further as Matilda (analysis of her character is can be found here) is traded away in an attempt to win the hand of Isabella. Examine the roles of these three women in the play, and discuss in which ways they defy the roles that Manfred sets out for them. Although it may seem at first that Walpole is degrading these women, what do you think he is really attempting to do as they slowly come out of their shells and interact with the plot?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Romanticism and Gothic in The Castle of Otranto
Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto is argued to be the first Gothic novel that emerged during the Romantic Period in literature. The gothic novel is said to include (not limited to) necromancy, the uncanny, the grotesque, the haunted house and mystery. Besides the setting of the story, which takes place in a “gothic castle", in what other ways does The Castle of Otranto set the standard of Gothic convention? How does the unveiling of the lost fathers contribute to the Gothic convention? In what ways does Matilda’s role in the play, and her death at the end, also contain certain elements of the Gothic novel?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Relationship Between Fathers and Their Children in The Castle of Otranto
In Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto", there are three very different relationships between fathers and their children and the way in which the fathers react when their children are endangered. Manfred the King is Conrad’s father, however, when Conrad is crushed beneath the giant helmet, Manfred is too worried about finding another heir to mourn Conrad’s death. However, when Father Jerome works diligently to save Theodore from certain death at Manfred’s hand, only to be rewarded in the end with the knowledge that Thomas is actually Manfred’s son. Compare and contrast these two different relationships with the relationship that Isabella finds with her newfound father. In which ways are they similar and in which ways are they different? What is the purpose of these relationships? For more information on this topic, check out the excellent article on representations of children in the 18th century in “Castle of Otranto”
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Supernatural in the Castle of Otranto
While there are definite religious aspects to The Castle of Otranto, such as Father Jerome and his chastisement against marrying Isabella, there are forces that are far outside of the Christian religion that are also involved and this is part of what makes this a gothic novel in the period of romanticism. Think back throughout the story and examine the times in which there was a different sort of supernatural element. You can use the statue that bled at the proposal of Manfred to Isabella and the portraits that come to life and reveal the secret behind Manfred’s Kingship. In what types of situations do these supernatural presences tend to make themselves known? Do these spirits serve another purpose, besides revealing facts (such as Manfred’s illegitimacy to the throne)?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #5: Prince Alfonso and The Castle of Otranto
From the beginning of Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, Prince Alfonso makes his presence known as his large helmet falls from the sky and crushes Conrad. From then on, it seems as if Alfonso (although his identity is not revealed until the end) is continuously ‘just dropping in’ on the characters. The sighting of his gigantic form in the castle saves both Isabella and Thomas, and the deliverance of his sword frightens Manfred greatly. Every appearance of Alfonso corresponds with a significant textual event. Reread the scenes in which Alfonso and his armor make their appearances, and describe what kind of foreshadowing is taking place in that situation. Is Alfonso’s presence used for more than just “putting the pieces together"?
For more information on the period this was written, check out both this article on “Otranto” and children or this great article on Romanticism here
This list of important quotations from “The Castle of Otranto” by Horace Walpole will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for “The Castle of Otranto” above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text they are referring to.
“All, who had known his partial fondness for young Conrad, were as much surprised at their young prince’s insensibility, as thunderstruck themselves at the miracle of the helmet. They conveyed the disfigured corpse into the hall, without receiving the least direction from Manfred…the first sounds that dropped from Manfred’s lips were, take care of the Lady Isabella." (29)
“’Oh, wretched youth!’ said Jerome; ‘how canst thou bear the sight of me with patience? I am they murderer! It is I have brought this dismal hour upon thee." (59)
“’I tell you,’ said Manfred, imperiously, ‘Hippolita is no longer my wife; I divorce from her this hour. Too long has she cursed me by her unfrutifulness. My fate depends on having sons; and this night, I trust, will give a new date to my hopes.’" (34)
“Hippolita then acquainted the friar with the proposal she had suggested to Manfred, his approbation of it, and the tender of Matilda that he was gone to make to Fredric." (91)
“At that instant, the portrait of his grandfather, which hung over the bench where they had been sitting, uttered a deep sigh and heaved its breast." (34)
“Fredric accepts Matilda’s hand, and is content to wave his claim, unless I have no male issue"-as he spoke those words, three drops of blood fell from the nose of Alfonso’s statue." (92)
“The first thing, that struck Manfred’s eyes, was a group of his servants, endeavoring to raise something, that appeared to him a mountain of sable plumes". He gazed, without believing his sight. ‘What are ye doing?’ cried Manfred, wrathfully, ‘where is my son?’ A volley of voices replied, ‘Oh! My lord! The prince! The prince! The helmet! The helmet!"’ (28)
“Manfred’s eyes were fixed on the gigantic sword, and he scarce seemed to attend to the cartel: but his attention was soon diverted by a tempest of wind that rose behind him. He turned and beheld the plumes of the enchanged helmet, agitated in the same extraordinary manner as before." (66)
“Manfred, waking as from a trance, beat his breast, twisted his hands in his locks, and endeavored to recover his dagger from Theodore, to dispatch himself." (101)
Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.