The Comic Tragedy of Mere Men and Women: The Ambiguously Distracting Use of Laughter in The Castle of Otranto and Its Prefaces
This paper attempts to analyze the curious effects of the comic scenes in The Castle of Otranto (1764) through a close reading of Walpole’s famous prefaces to the novel. The comic scenes evoke an incongruous dramatic response and contradict the claims made in the prefaces, according to which comic elements highlight dramatic ones. While being often thought of as indicative of a general aesthetic failure, the comic elements in this foundational text of the Gothic are indeed subtle, complex and artful. More precisely, Walpole’s curious use of laughter makes a complex appeal to an extra-dramatic level which undercuts the reader’s identification with the dramatic situations represented in the novel.
Keywords: Horace Walpole; The Castle of Otranto; comedy; drama; Gothic novel; prefaces
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