Gothic Literature Personified by Melancholy/ Malady in Literature (2005, The Netherlands) by Blerina Berberi

1. Introduction                                                                                  

2. On Melancholy                                                                             

2.1 Origins of Melancholy                                                 

            2.2 Renaissance and Melancholy                                    

            2.3 Melancholy and Intellect abilities                           

            2.4. Melancholy and the Sublime                                     

3. Renaissance’s Melancholy and Shakespeare                      

4. The Castle of Otranto, Hamlet and Melancholy                

5. Conclusion: Melancholy, Gothic and Modernism            

6. Bibliography                                                                                    


            The literature on melancholy began during antiquity with a study on melancholy as a human disease and further references to melancholy can be traced in literature. This research explores the subject of melancholy and its importance and suggests that this subject is widely borrowed, analyzed and transformed by Gothic literature. Therefore the research is organized basically in a chronological order of ideas and literary works. A clear understanding of the melancholic element in Gothic brings the necessity of creating a vocabulary on the symptoms and causes of melancholy. Since for melancholy has been a long ‘trip’ in literature, different periods might add or subtract some elements within it, but still the general conception of this disease, melancholy, is suggested of being strongly cemented in Gothic literature.

The following text gives an account on melancholy during different periods, through out the text melancholy is referred as being adust on the basis of the context where it is placed, and then is followed by an analysis on melancholy in Shakespeare’s works, especially Hamlet. Some selected comments of Walpole on the Castle of Otranto and his citing on Shakespeare will exhibit a clear indication of the melancholy relationship.

In the conclusion, as the title suggests and this is central to the paper, there is an explanation of how Gothic literature is embodied in it self by the melancholic humour, the characters and how the melancholic elements define Gothic literature as a genre and process.

2. Melancholy

2.1. Origins of Melancholy

Melancholy as a subject can be traced back in antiquity, in both Eastern and Western countries. The majority of texts on this subject suggest that melancholy is a disease of the body and/or soul. In general melancholy is considered, according to some authors, as a disease of the body that gives rise to the malady of the soul. Early studies suggest that melancholy is an:

“ …affection of the body caused by an excess of the humor known as a black bile”  (Mas, p. 26)

The black bile, which is a digestive juice secreted by the liver, is stored in the gallbladder and aids in digesting fats. It is also regarded of being responsible for creating humoral imbalance. During antiquity, the concern of the black bile rose upon the issues of humanistic science and was studied by both intellectuals and physicians, either it was studied as a disease of the soul or as a disease of the body. The link between melancholy and temperament is to be found in Aristotle’s texts, which consider melancholy as a feature of subject’s character where the humour black bile is predominant.

In a more detailed way, some other studies define melancholy on the basis of its symptoms. According to Hippocrates (c. 460-377 BC), melancholy is defined on the basis of two symptoms that this disease has:

“ When sadness and fear last for a long time, then it is melancholy” (Mas, p.27)

Thus the melancholy’s symptoms are fear and sadness but other authors state that there also some other symptoms regarding this disease. For example, Areteus (c. 150) states that melancholy is associated with sadness and grief. So far, sadness, fear and grief seem to resemble its symptoms.

Moreover, since melancholy is related to the subject’s character, the imbalance of the humours is also seen to cause disorders. The Pythagorean school states that different humans might manifest different behaviors and while some can be peaceful, others:

“…who are unbalanced because of excess of black bile scream, bother or hurt others, and are dangerous” (Mas, p.27)

Therefore the disease becomes of a more social concern since the melancholic character can be a danger to society. Also, melancholy results also in madness, dreamlike visions and other mental disorders such as also an absence of consciousness. Again, melancholic humours have abnormal thoughts and behavior and it can affect people in love when it becomes impossible.

Moreover, Chrisostomos (c. 380) writes about a monk affected by melancholy during his monastic life and describes the monk as:

“…suffering such as terrifying nightmares, speech disorders, fits, faints, unjustified feelings of hopelessness about his salvation and being tormented by a prompting to commit suicide” (Mas, p. 31)

Therefore, melancholy was seen as a mental confusion, madness, illusions, fear, anguish, disorders of consciousness that would be considered in nowadays as deep depression.

Also in East, where the Aristotle’s and other Hellenistic texts were available before were displayed in West, Muslim physicians dealt with the issue of melancholy. Ali Ibn Abbas (925- 982) in his Treatise on Melancholy considered melancholy as a disease affecting three faculties, imagination, reason and memory. In more details he states:

“Its psychic symptoms are anguish and sadness, worst disease of the soul. Sadness is the state of a subject who has lost and esteemed object, no matter what it is. Anguish is the state of one who fears misfortune” (Mas, p. 32)


2.2 Renaissance and Melancholy 

Around 1240, Aristotelian thoughts and comments on natural sciences became available to the Western Latin Christian world. These texts were the basic studies of the Renaissance. All the texts were translated mainly in the southern Italy, such as Sicily, where the concept of melancholy on personality and temperament were analyzed. Therefore, Aristotle’s ideas began to renew.

Renaissance is thus a period of revival. Among other concerns the problem of Evil and evil things in the world was of a peculiar interest in Renaissance. An exhausted literature on moral philosophy became the basis of characters for many authors, including even Shakespeare. The ideas of microcosmos in which man was considered of having certain elements that corresponded with the universe were widely spread and taken into consideration, most importantly the melancholy man and the balance of the four humours (blood, choler, phlegm, melancholy) who were vital for the melancholy humour. Two basic melancholic humours were accepted, the natural and the unnatural one. The causes of the natural humor can sometimes be traced, while as some believe, the unnatural humour is of no reason that can be found. A new element in the Renaissance related to the unnatural melancholy (adust) was the inordinate passion. Thomas Wright relates melancholy with inordinate passions and states:

“ …melancholy that is not retained in the spleen that it causes a “splentick fogge” to rise to the brain and destroy discretion, so that the brain passes on goblins to the heart, which acts in passion. This fog may work in various ways: it may cause apparitions to be wrought by apprehension of common sense, or it may cause fancy to forge disguised shapes, or it may cause memory to neglect other records and regard only the dark and sympathetic ones” (Campbell, p. 74).

Still, the most famous book during those times was the one by Robert Burton on the Anatomy of Melancholy in 1621. Briefly, Burton defines melancholy as bad disease that transforms man into a beast. As it is already mentioned above, the idea of melancholy of being associated with fear and sadness (grief, sorrow) without any apparent reason was also generally accepted in Renaissance. Again, reason is easily corrupted by imagination of the melancholic people. Burton also refers to some other authors that consider melancholy residing in different organs, such as liver, heart, brain, etc., and the melancholy humour is located in the person till the melancholy blood is cleansed. Furthermore, Burton accepts the Pythagorean’s school ideas that the symptoms are:

 “…either universal or particular…to persons, to species” (Burton, p.325).

The symptoms of this malady, disease depend on the humour complexion of hot/cold and dry, thus more or less adust.  Here is a distinction between natural and non-natural melancholy (adust) where the second produces madness due to hot complexions of the character, while the first is cold and creates a gentled dotage that is a mental infirmity as a consequence of old age and sometimes shown by foolish infatuations. In natural melancholy memory is considered to be in good conditions and these people might have very good apprehensions and are characterized by dullness, laziness, laugh, etc. But in melancholy adust, there is no clear reason of its cause, where the brain is hot and dry people do not sleep, and if the person’s organs are affected by this disease then there are prisoners of Incubus, Apoplexy, Epilepsy, Vertigo and have terrible dreams, sweat a lot, and their senses deceive them. Also, the passions of these characters are stronger and violent compared to those of the natural melancholy. Moreover, through the work of Devil they do imagine things and communicate with ghosts and apparitions.

Other types of melancholy, such as the one proceeded from phlegm produces asinine melancholy and the character is dull, stupid, wanderous, sleepy, and meditative. If it proceeds from blood adust then these characters are pleasant, fanciful, and always laughing. Some refer to this type of melancholy as the one that Aristotle mentioned that is of a certain magnitude to be found in philosophers, poets, prophets, etc. Also, when it proceeds from choler/melancholy adust these characters are:

“…furious, impatient in discourse, stiff, irrefragabile, and prodigious in their tenents;…most violent, outrageous, ready to disgrace, provoke any, to kill themselves and others…” (Burton, p. 341)

These symptoms are sometimes considered as being inflicted by the Devil. Most importantly, the role of passions in melancholy is also of a significant one. Therefore, Renaissance thoughts on melancholy do resemble the opinions of previous authors but another factor, in this case inordinate passion became the cause of melancholy and all its consequent symptoms. Furthermore, this disease became focused on the study of passions, which engender melancholy, and passions themselves began to be regarded as a new disease of interest to be studied.

Another issue was that of the intellect abilities being related to Devil’s work, and which are thought in general to lead man into madness. This led a new study area.


2.3 Melancholy and Intellect

A new problem, which was based on Aristotle’s texts, evolved studies around the issue of melancholy and intellectual abilities of the melancholic characters. On the issue of Intelligence, Burton states that not always melancholy is demoniacal but usually people are sad and fearful but still, not always.

In Renaissance, a lot of physicians and intellectuals, including Leonardo da Vinci, dealt with the issue of melancholy. It was widely spread that melancholy is a disease that ‘gives birth’ to bad thoughts and sadness for no apparent reason.  But still, a new line of studying melancholy fell under the heading of Problem XXX and it was related to an analysis of melancholic characters that had certain abilities in philosophy, divination, and rare languages without actually having any kind of previous knowledge about these faculties.

Moreover, the melancholy that was related to intellectual abilities in general was considered as a disease caused by devil and Renaissance also referred to Saint Jerome (342- 420) who wrote in loyalty to the monks, that the melancholic humour is a consequence of people possessed by the devil. Also Greek and Arab physicians shared the same view about devil’s interference in those people who would make prophecies and interpret dreams. Thus, melancholy was mostly accepted as opening the door to the devil, since they thought that the black bile was an interference of the devil in the body and soul. As some accepted the idea that melancholy may influence and alter the intellect, others rejected this theory by stating that melancholy leads to degradation of the intellect. 

To sum up, the declaration of melancholy as a disease appears to have been studied many centuries back in antiquity. The main discussions until the Renaissance evolved around the symptoms of the disease and some of its causes. Throughout Renaissance the basic assumptions of melancholy were still prominent but a further association of melancholy with passions became more apparent. Thus apart from considering melancholy as a malady affecting body and/or soul, passions were also weighted in infusing melancholy. The distinction between melancholy and melancholy adust, can be seen as a classification and ordering of previous medical or philosophical studies on melancholy. Therefore, the ‘two types’ of melancholy built up the following features:

1.Natural Melancholy: characterized by excess of the humour by the black bile. Melancholy is related to sadness, grief, sorrow, anguish, and disorder of the reason, imagination and memory at some extent. Memory is possible to be in good condition, and people can have still a good apprehension of things, but are dull, lazy, fancy, but is also regarded sometimes as being of an artistic talent for poets, philosophers, etc. 

2.Unnatural Melancholy (Melancholy adust): A clear reason cannot be easily defined, the extreme type of the natural melancholy whose symptoms are screaming, bothering, becoming a danger to others and own self, madness, dreamlike visions, lost of consciousness, nightmares, speech disorders, fits, faints, suicide tendencies, feeling of hopelessness, apparitions, loss of memory, remembrance of dark memories, disguised shapes, turns men to a beast, galvanizes into Incubus, Apoplexy, Epilepsy, Vertigo, deception of senses, violent, outrages, prodigious, still, irrefragabile, its an open door to the devil. Also inordinate passion is believed in Renaissance as engendering this type of melancholy.

3.Intellectual Melancholy: it is accepted that a certain amount of a melancholic humour, Aristotle and Burton, is possible to generate certain artistic/ intellectual skills but in most cases intellectual abilities are possible “virtues” offered by the Devil.  


2.4. Melancholy and the Sublime  

            After establishing a ‘vocabulary’ on melancholy it is important to analyze some gothic elements with that of melancholy. Melancholy and the role of passions were very much discussed during Renaissance, Elizabethan times, in the 16th century, England and later on. Also, Edmund Burke in his work in 1757, A Philosophical Enquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful, resembles some gothic elements. Furthermore, it is stated that:

“The presentation of ideas in Part II has sometimes encouraged a ‘checklist’ approach in relating Burke’s theory to works of Gothic fiction” (Clery & Miles, p. 112).

Part II of his work is centered by the sublime and rounded by self-preservation, terror, fear, imagination, etc. Burke makes a distinction between the sublime and beauty, where the later is opposed to the former. On one side, beauty is related to pleasure, untroubled society and reproduction while on the other side the sublime is associated with pain and delight, terror, danger, self- preservation, etc. Furthermore, Burke goes on with the definition of the sublime and he states:

“Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain, and danger, that is to say, whatever is in any sort terrible, or is conversant about terrible objects, or operates in a manner analogous to terror, is a source of the sublime…it is productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable” (Clery & Miles, p.113)

First of all the idea of beauty seems to be the opposing side of melancholy. Melancholy was considered as a ‘bad seed’ in a society and it can be stated that since the ideas against the sublime were those of beauty, which also in the case of Renaissance and Elizabethan times consisted on order and harmony, then melancholy seems to be comparable with the sublime.  It can also be seen that by replacing the word ‘sublime’ in the above quote, with the word melancholy still the quote would make sense. That is because the melancholic humour is prey of terror, danger, mental disorders, anguish, imagination, disguised shapes, dreamlike visions, etc. But for a closer relation between melancholy and the sublime let’s see some other features of the sublime.

Burke goes on stating that the sublime foreruns our reasoning and makes us act impatiently while being driven by a tempting force. This is the case also with melancholy, where the melancholic humour is believed of loosing consciousness, reason, and can be driven by the supernatural, which in this case this would be the tempting force. Also the passion of fear, Burke believes, diminishes the mind and reasoning and it causes wonder, astonishment and a feeling of sublime. He refers to goblins and ghosts as affecting our minds due to the passion of fear and relates the darkness of occurring events, such as temples, with the feeling of worship and sublime. Apart from these, Burke also defines the sublime as an uncertainty of describing certain things that can be caused by our imagination. The sublime is somehow similar to melancholy. The melancholic humour and especially at melancholy adust (unnatural) can be fearful to, and astonished by the supernatural, and thus be accompanied by a feeling of sublime. For example, witchcraft was believed during Renaissance (also by Shakespeare) as being practiced by melancholic people, who believed in the supernatural and their worship included violence and terror at different levels, and was mostly placed in dark places either in nature at night or in closed and dark ambiances. Again focusing on the uncertainty that these are exposed, indicates the similarity between the sublime and melancholy. The melancholic humor either being caused by the excess of the black bile, or inordinate passion, fear, sorrow, grief, etc., is still characterized of being in loss of consciousness and believing in apparitions, ghosts, goblins, etc. 

Burke, also relates power with the sublime, terror, strength, harm and states:

“That power derives all its sublimity from the terror with which it is generally accompanied, will appear evidently from its effect in the very few cases, in which it may be possible to strip a considerable degree of strength of its ability to hurt” (Clery & Miles, p. 116-117)

Therefore, as power is considered of being sublime while it is accompanied by terror its effect is that of causing harm. Also the melancholic character, as earlier mentioned, is considered to be a danger to him/her self and the society. The power of the melancholic humour is that of causing harm to themselves or others and it sublimity can be derived from the acquisition of the supernatural phenomena that can be troublesome, cause terror and astonishment due to madness, frenzy, inordinate passion, etc. Burke also refers to melancholy as an evil thing but relates its causes with a restful physical state and says:

“Melancholy, dejection, despair, and often self-murder, is the consequence of the gloomy view we take of things in this relaxed state of the body” (Clery & Miles, p.120).

Burke, like others including Burton, is concerned about these ‘diseases’ and suggests that the healing of these evil things, in this case also melancholy, is labour because labour and the work of muscles is a mode of pain. Contrary to this, Burton suggested that a better acquaintance, friendship, family, school and society would be helpful for curing the melancholic humour.

In summary, Burke’s theory on the sublime, which refers to gothic fiction, seems to be similar to that of melancholy. Both, the sublime and melancholy are exposed to violence, disorders or reason and passions, such as fear, and danger. Therefore since Burke’s theory is used as a ‘checklist’ for gothic fiction, also melancholy would fit in the same position.  Now, let’s continue with a chronological study of melancholy.


3. Renaissance’s Melancholy and Shakespeare 

Renaissance as a period was a rebirth of classic literature and architectural order. The availability of Aristotle’s and other philosopher’s texts around 1240 in Italy brought the revival and the reconsideration of many social, political, economical and above all human characters’ matters. The dichotomy of reason and passion, led to an extensive classification and order for a secured peace and prosperous advance. Also, the Elizabethan age (around 1558- 1603), according to Tillyard, was characterized by an obsession with order and ordinate passion. The categorization of human character was based on the Renaissance humours, and were deeply analyzed for their affects. Thus, the melancholy character was seen as a disease of a man of inordinate passion, whose imbalance of characters would threaten a pre-established order.  Sins and virtues were highly discussed while trying to establish a human law, which they considered to be harmonious. The fear of chaos is resembled in the study of the melancholic character, which is thought of endangering the order.

Shakespeare’s works and especially his tragedies are most of the times analyzed for his geniality sometimes in a symbolical or semantic context, which relates social, political, sexual, etc., concerns of his times. Nevertheless, Shakespeare’s knowledge and the variety of characters nourish a new study path of the characters and their character or temperament. Thus, it is important to notice that since a heated discussion on the melancholy man (specifically melancholy adust character) was of concern in moral philosophy and science, Shakespeare exhausts the human character in different circumstances by raising not an immediate objection to the character, and this should be the first and main element of his works where all the supernatural issues in the later literature (early Gothic) refer to. More explicitly, as it is known the melancholy adust is considered to be a disease, is put into question in Shakespeare’s works. The melancholic characters in his works are acquainted with ghosts, do have problems of memory, passion, reason, and will but the supernatural appears to offer truth at certain situations in his plays. Lets take a look at Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet.

Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, is of the melancholy humour. He is acquainted in the beginning of the story with the ghost of his dead father, the former King, and the ghost tells him about the cause of his father’s death. Hamlet is considered a lunatic by Claudius and Hamlet’s behavior is not of a normal person that is why his uncle, the new King and the new husband of his mother, states after seeing the failure of Hamlet’s admittance to Ophelia’s love:

King Claudius: Love! His affections do not that way tend;

Nor what he spake, though it lack’d form a little,

Was not like madness. There’s something in his soul,

O’er which his melancholy sits on brood;

And I do doubt that hatch and the disclose

Will be some danger: which for to prevent,

I have in quick determination

Thus set it down: he shall with speed to England…

Act 3, Scene 1. 175-180

As the King acknowledges, Hamlet is pray of melancholy (adust) and he is considered to be of a danger for the others. And this states as in this case that a negative attitude toward the melancholic character was taken during Shakespeare’s times. But apart from that some other parts of Hamlet’s character should be taken into account. First, the story of the ghost challenges Hamlet’s mood and belief. Still, he is not sure of believing in it. Thus he states:

    But I am pigeon- liver’d and lack gall

To make oppression bitter, or ere this…

I know my course. The spirit I have seen

May be the devil: and the devil hath power

To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps

Out of my weakness and my melancholy,

As he is very potent with such spirits,

Abuses me to damn me: I’ll have grounds

More relative than this: the play’s the thing

Wherein I’ll  catch the conscience of the king.

Act 2, Scene 2, 580-2 & 603-610

Hamlet says to himself that it is not possible that he might be of a melancholy adust humour since he declares that he lacks the gall running through his liver that causes melancholy. Still he acknowledges that the devil can have an easy access in human’s humour through melancholy and considers it as a possibility, therefore he wants to prove the story by preparing a play for the King.

Thus melancholy seems to be of a positive aspect on Hamlet side most of the times. For example, his love letter’s to Ophelia are of a powerful imagination and sensation, his knowledge in literature and plays is a high level, his preparations for the play that was shown to the King defines his talent, and his conversations with the grave diggers and other characters represent Hamlet as an intellectual man. Thus Hamlet in ‘possession’ of the melancholy adust humour appears to have certain intellectual abilities, which actually aren’t part of a devil’s work. Furthermore, the belief in the ghost’s story, which is a true one, as Claudius states in his monologue while praying one night, contradicts the Renaissance ideas on the discussion of ghosts as deceiving people about truth. Some other features of Hamlet that do correspond with the wide spread notions of melancholy adust is his forgetfulness of Ophelia and his rough attitude toward his mother, king, friends, etc. Also, others regard Hamlet in the play, including his mother, of no cause of melancholy and as being ruled by madness and lunacy. Again the appearance of the ghost in his Gertrude’s room, whom she doesn’t see, can be seen as a sign of Hamlet’s frenzy and madness.

Another reference in Shakespeare’s work, clearly indicates his knowledge and concern about melancholy, its symptoms, and origins. Contrary to what might have been considered throughout Elizabethan times, melancholy in the following passage seems to emphasize the wide range of melancholy types and the distinction of a personal melancholy, which is stated to be a recollection of bits of experience accompanied with an attitude of sad feelings.

            William Shakespeare: “As You Like It”, act 4, scene 1, line 4.

Jaq. I have neither the scholar’s melancholy, which is emulation,

Nor the musician’s, which is fantastical,

Nor the courtier’s, which is proud,

Nor the soldier’s, which is ambitious,

Nor the lawyer’s, which is politic,

Nor the lady’s, which is nice,

Nor the lover’s, which is all these:

But it is a melancholy of mine own,

Compounded of many simples,

Extracted from many objects

And indeed the sundry’s contemplation of my travels,

In which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness.

In summary, Shakespeare in his works seem to challenge to some extent the definition of melancholy as a disease, by indicating the supernatural as important in the deriving of truth and knowledge. By looking at Hamlet in another perspective, the play shows the attitude of the characters of the play around Hamlet, considering him as a melancholic, dangerous, not virtuous in love, lunatic, and of an abnormal behavior. But what Hamlet appears to be later in the play, is his intelligent side even though at some degree melancholic and forgetful to his Ophelia, but decided to follow the path that led to the finding of the truth, which in the play is the cause of death of his father. Still, through out the play Hamlet’s humour and passions are sometimes unbalanced, and that’s where his melancholy adust humour makes other wonder about the cause of the disease. The variety of characters, also refers to the role of passions in melancholy, where different characters being under the melancholic humour, can be intelligent, sad, grief, mad, screaming (Hamlet at Gertrude and Ophelia), sluggish sometimes, such as Gertrude, can commit suicide due to impossible love, as Ophelia, can kill others due to their ambition, as King Claudius, or can have disordered the faculties of reason, as Hamlet refers to Gertrude, etc.

Finally, the role of melancholy adust and its relation to passions can be traced in Shakespeare’s works, not only in Hamlet but also in Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, etc., and the consideration of melancholy and supernatural as not always of being a bad disease. That is why it is suggested that this turn in the notion of melancholy by Shakespeare might have influenced a lot of works in the early Gothic literature.  


4. The Castle of Otranto, Hamlet and Melancholy

            The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764, in its prefaces written by Walpole refers to the novel as being penetrated by the supernatural phenomena, and defines it as a gothic novel. Furthermore in his Preface to the First Edition, he states:

“Miracles, visions, necromancy, dreams, and other preternatural events, are exploded now even from romances” (Walpole, p.7)

The supernatural events occurring in the novel, refer to the appearance of the ghost in the castle such as that of Alfonso the Good, Manfred’s grandfather coming out of a painting, the gigantic helmet, the skeleton praying in the church, the sound of the plumes of the helmet, the blood coming out of Alfonso’s sculpture, etc. Apart from referring to the supernatural character of this novel, Walpole also refers to the geniality of the novel, and he states: 

“…conduct of the passions is masterly” (Walpole, p.8) and “…never lose sight of their human character” (Walpole, p. 11)

The admiration of Walpole on this novel falls under the headlines of supernatural, passion and human character. During this period the classicist movement in literature favored rationality, restraint and strict forms. Walpole, also an antiquarian, opposes classicism and refers to the human character as being unbalanced by passions and the supernatural. Moreover, the connection between the Castle of Otranto and Shakespeare seem to be found in the revival and the deep analysis on melancholy and issues concerning authors about this type of humor whose symptoms are adequately mentioned by Walpole, the supernatural and reality. Apart from this, Walpole advocates of being a follower of Shakespeare’s works, not only of their supernatural element but also of the humour attached at certain character’s in the play whose features being posted on heroic figures, Walpole believes, would have loosened the magnificence of Shakespeare’s plays.

Melancholy is even introduced by Walpole in his Sonnet to Lady Mary Cook, and he writes:

 “THE gentle maid, whose hapless tale

These melancholy pages speak”(Walpole, p. 16)

Here, Walpole already defines the character of the novel as being melancholic. This hint would have given people with some knowledge on the melancholic humour, already an apprehension of how the following story will be like. In the novel, the first element of being encountered is the fall of the gigantic helmet. As also in Hamlet, in the beginning of the play a supernatural event happens, such as the appearance of the ghost in Hamlet’s case. But while Hamlet is more explicit in his monologue the character of Manfred is seen more in interaction with other characters in the play. Thus Hamlet can be understood more clearly than Manfred since Manfred can also be thought of faking in his relations to other characters in the novel. Manfred’s behavior is described as being quickly agitated and frantic. In the beginning, after his son died by the fall of the gigantic helmet, he accused Theodore, who thought that the helmet was the one of Alfonso the Good, of being a necromancer, magician, and sorcerer. This is the first time in the novel where people found Manfred of insulting Theodore and believed that his decision on revenging him was “ill-grounded”. Therefore, at this stage the attitude and behavior of Manfred is seen as being abnormal, and without a reason by the rest of the other characters in the text. This is a sign of melancholy adust, and Manfred can be compared to Hamlet so far, about whom everybody thought that madness and fury had usurped them without a reason, apart from taking into consideration Hamlet’s death of his father and Manfred’s death of his son. Furthermore, Manfred is seen as being guided by the highly dangerous passions:

“ Pride, ambition, and his reliance on ancient prophecies, which had pointed out a possibility of his preserving them to his posterity, combated that thought”         (Walpole, p. 70)

According to King James, as Campbell states, pride and ambition are considered to be the characteristics of devil. Therefore as soon as a character is presented of aiming at pride and ambition, the future is already written, and that is destruction of ones’ or others’ selves. Also, since Hamlet dies in the end of tragedy, if he is considered of being driven by ambition and pride, since he thought he was the son of an unfair mother and of a treated father by his brother, then Hamlet’s death can be related to these two passions and walk aside with Manfred’s character.

Manfred’s believes on ancient prophecies is kind of comparable to Hamlet. Hamlet also believes immediately to the ghost’s story, but his friend Horatio tells him to be careful. But latter Hamlet makes an effort of analyzing the reaction of King Claudius to his written play, whose plot was similar to his father’s death circumstances. But Manfred, who believes to the ancient prophecies about the continuance of his future generations in the castle, is still shaken by the moving portrait painting of his grandfather and he questions himself if that’s a sign of devil against him. Furthermore, in the novel the portrait is formed of characteristics, which Manfred related to devils’ work:

“He saw it quit its panel and descended on the floor with a grave and melancholy air”(Walpole, p. 23)

This is similar to Hamlet’s doubt as it is cited earlier in this paper. Both admit that the devil is related to melancholy and reanalyze them selves if there is any possibility of being at melancholy, thus opening the door to the devil.

Another feature of melancholy in Manfred is his attitude toward his wife Hippolita. Persistent of having a new son through marrying Isabella, who was supposed to marry his son, Manfred calls Isabella to meet him in his chamber, and asks her to marry him. Isabella is paranoid and remembers him of his wife Hippolita. Manfred says: “Curse on Hippolita!” (Walpole, p.22). So, Manfred at melancholy adust, at certain moments when his passions are unbalanced, can be seen as suffering a loss of memory and reason when he tells Isabella to forget about his wife since he has already divorced her.

Love and jealousy are also to be found in the novel but they are, as Renaissance holds, imprisoned by a passion unguided by virtue and thus it engenders melancholy adust. Burton also stated that when a passionate love is not guided by virtue then jealousy derives and it can lead to murder of the others’ or one’s self. So, Manfred being at a melancholy humour at a certain moment produced by the jealousy of the ‘relationship’ between Theodore and Isabella kills his daughter Matilda accidentally. Thus his melancholy character, passing through an unbalanced humour of being inflicted by an inordinate passion led to the murder of his daughter. Hamlet as of not being interested in another woman apart from Ophelia is of no relation to Manfred at this point. But the attitude toward the closest friends and family, in Hamlet as in Manfred seems to be at some points comparable. Hamlet after his acquaintance with the ghost turns his back to Ophelia, and denies his love to her. Also, Manfred at a very touchy part of the novel is described not bearing the moment when Matilda before dying took her parents hands and clasped them to her heart:

“ Manfred could not support this act of pathetic piety” (Walpole, p.77)

As Hamlet, did ridiculed Ophelia’s love in one act, Manfred shows the same character as though both expressing that there are in no need of any help or affection.

In general, Hamlet is described as being at times intelligent, lovely, passionate, reasonable, etc also Manfred is stated to be:

“…his virtues were always ready to operate, when his passions did not obscure his reason” (Walple, 27)

Hamlet and Manfred are both placed in castles and confronted with ghosts and supernatural phenomena. Their character is of melancholy and it affects the whole atmosphere and people. From one perspective, Hamlet is a virtuous man who seeks truth and in his trip to knowledge he is confronted with ghosts, and his melancholy character affects the people around him and brings their death. Manfred is also of some virtues but his passions, ambition and pride, are so inordinate that the whole story of terror is caused by his humour. Both characters seem to be similar at melancholy, but on different levels of adust, and their passions and acquaintance with supernatural phenomena cause an unbalanced humour that causes terror and death of their relatives.

            Melancholy can be traced in most of Shakespeare’s plays, such as Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, etc., and also in the  Castle of Otranto. Shakespeare aware of melancholy as a disease caused by biological, supernatural intervention or passions, gives and with his works challenged the supernatural effect on humans. As in Hamlet the ghost is a ‘good’ ghosts who spoke the truth so that the supernatural element becomes of a positive connotation. Still, concerns about passions as engendering melancholy, in rough lines led to the Truth by the intervention of the unrealistic, are not as much objected to the aim of Truth but to the consequences in humans. Also, Botting in his comments on the Castle of Otranto states:

“…The Castle of Otranto…the novel appears as a text that examines the limitations of reason, virtue and honor in the regulation of passions, ambitions and violence…” (Botting, p.53)

Therefore, there is a clear similarity of the elements worked through by both, Shakespeare and Walpole. Furthermore, as justice in Hamlet is done by the melancholic character of taking into consideration the supernatural, also in the Castle of Otranto, supernatural events are responsible of setting justice among the living:

“…evocations of terror and superstition can be seen to advocate a sense of awe at supernatural power and its restitution to justice,” (Botting, p.52)

Moreover, as Shakespeare is characterized by a study of the melancholy humour, which was revived in Renaissance from antiquity, also the Castle of Otranto has the same origins or the same references. Walpole has followed the same path by publishing in 1764, a literary text regarding melancholy, its disorders, symptoms, passions, etc. And as Botting states:

“The pleasures of horror and terror came from the reappearance of figures long gone” (Botting, p.3)

Finally, the elements of melancholy including its affects and effects can be traced at different magnitudes in Shakespeare and Walpole. Both do refer to certain classes of society and certain humours and analyze melancholy as part of the human character where the supernatural is an important element.


5. Conclusion: Melancholy, Gothic and Modernism

            The study of the disease, known as melancholy, has followed a chronological long analysis on the subject and its becoming of most importance is explicitly to be found in Gothic literature. Shakespeare was supported for the supernatural element, and this is the element that Walpole, with his Castle of Otranto, thought of referring to. Actually, the supernatural during Shakespeare’s times was considered of being associated with melancholy. Melancholy adust humour was responsible for the appearance of such supernatural elements, and most of the times it was thought that melancholic people were connected to Devil, or that melancholy was an open door to the Devil. Most importantly, the relation between melancholy and intellect as Aristotle and Burton advocate is of un undefined causes, but it is accepted as existing in poets and other artists.

According to Lancelot Whyte, during the 18th century there was an increased interest in dreams and he states:

“[f]rom the eighteenth century onward growing interest was shown not only in the normal rhythms of consciousness (sleep, dreams, reveries, etc.) but also in unusual pathological states (fainting, ecstasy, hypnosis, hallucinations, dissociations, drugged conditions, epilepsy, forgetfulness, etc.) and in processes underlying ordinary thought (imagination, judgment, selection, diagnosis, interest, sympathy, etc.)”  (Clemens, p. 25)

Again, the whole concern stated in the paragraph above has to do with the symptoms of melancholy, but the turn in Gothic of this character, by somehow referring to Shakespeare, reconciled the bad connotation of melancholy into as most often to be found in Gothic literature, with the necessity and reliability of the supernatural, thus the melancholic humour.

According to Foucault, (ref. Miles, R.) the literature of the 18th century was characterized by ‘nostalgia’. Foucault states that during this period of crisis the revival of some texts, belonging to a revival of an earlier vanished period, was done on the purpose for a recognition of difference in the past and would really present the human character which was ignored or better saying objected during Renaissance. He also states about this period:

“Madness was no longer of the order of nature or of the Fall, but of a new order, in which men began to have a presentiment of history, and where there formed, in an obscure originating relationship, the ‘alienation’ of the physicians and the ‘alienation’ of the philosophers” (Foucault, p.220)

Foucault states that the fate of history and madness are linked. And the modern attitude toward madness has its origins in Renaissance. Thus modernity as Renaissance and Elizabethan age do oppose madness, which implies melancholy. But during its development Gothic literature did absorb ‘madness’ which in other terms would mean melancholy.

Foucault, famous of his discourse theory, defines the relationship between knowledge and power and is interested in the study of how knowledge, truth and power are dependent on the discourse. And Gothic, presenting the voice of the repressed and rejected melancholy character, was rejected by modernity due to its negation of dissolving into modernity. Thus Gothic is opposed to the power and knowledge of modernity but also, according to Foucault, it forms its own power and knowledge throughout its discourse.

Furthermore, the change in the narrative shows that melancholy in Gothic became of one perspective, and it had to be analyzed as detached from pre-established rules regarding passion, rationality, order, etc. According to Botting:

“…Gothic fiction can be said to blur rather than distinguish the boundaries that regulated social life, and inrrogate, rather than restore, any imagined continuity between the past and present, nature and culture, reason and passion, individuality and family and society” (Botting, p. 47)

The blurring of the boundaries of Gothic fiction is a characteristic of the melancholic humour. As melancholy is the door to supernatural, terror, sadness, grief, unreason, madness, unconsciousness, even power of intellect, it challenges the boundaries of truth and reality.

In conclusion, the concern of this disease called melancholy appeared through many centuries and is still discussed even in nowadays and sometimes even referring to business corporations and strategies. Since Gothic is considered of representing the voice of the repressed and is also referred to the ‘destructive element’ of itself or society, still literature on economy and businesses can be found where the term melancholy is used to describe certain attitudes and inclinations of businesses similar to that of melancholy explained here. Also Marx ideas on the class struggle and alienation seem to resemble those views of Gothic, in relation to the opposition of technological, capitalist and social changes in the 18th century. But still, early studies such as those of Aristotle and then Burton, were concerned about the disease since they thought it can affect the whole society and bring chaos in the established orders of reality and truth and the same ideas were also shared in the emerging of the Gothic literature and may hold in our contemporary times.  Later Shakespeare, who considered melancholy as a key to the truth, heightened the disease, whose symptoms were feared for many centuries. Thereafter Gothic literature embodied the nature of melancholy by a nostalgic attitude toward the old texts whose elements were of supernatural character and switched the power of literature on the melancholic side. Most interesting, all types of melancholy are to be found in every Gothic text, where the characteristics of both Gothic literature and characters are those of different types of melancholy and that is the explanation of finding the same elements in both contexts. Walpole took another step forward and made explicit the fruitfulness of melancholy on the trip to the Truth:

“The dead have exhausted the power of deceiving” (Watt, p.38)



- Botting, Fred, Gothic, The New Critical Idiom, Taylor and Francis, New York, 1996

- Burton, Robert, Anatomy of Melancholy, New York: Tudor 1927

- Campbell, Lily B., Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes, Slaves of Passion, Gloucester, Mass, Peter           Smith, 1973

- Clemens, Valdine, The Return of the Repressed, State University of New York, 1999.

- Clery, E. J. and Miles, Robert, Gothic document,  A source book 1700-1820, Manchester University Press, New York, 2000

- Mas, Antonio Contreras, Libro de la Melancholia by Andres Velazques (1585),  Part 1 & 2. The intellectual origins of the book & Its context and importance,, History of Psychiatry, 14/1&2, 025-040, 179-193, SAGE Publications.

- Miles, Robert, Gothic Writing, 1750-1820, A Genealogy, Manchester University Press, New York, sec.ed., 2002

- Staunton, Howard, The Globe. Illustrated Shakespeare, The Complete Works Annotated, Gramercy Books, 1979.

- Tillyard, E.M.W, The Elizabethan World Picture, Pimlico, 1998

- Foucault, M., Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, trans. Richard Howard, Rpt. London,1967

- Walpole, Horace, The Castle of Otranto in Four Gothic Novels, Oxford University Press New York, 1994

- Watt, James, Contesting The Gothic, Fiction, Genre and Cultural Conflict, 1764- 1832, Cambridge University Press, 1999