“Lady Lazarus” and “The Castle of Otranto”
Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” entails the notion of life and death in an enigmatic way. Plath through Lady Lazarus character determines that a woman dies every time she experiences a near to death tormenting experience from a male dominated society, which challenges gifted women for their qualities since its inception. In the poem, Lady Lazarus is insisting of living nine lives like a cat, this superficial claim is termed as world-without-us experience by a famous philosopher Eugene Thacker. According to his theory, Lady Lazarus character is gothic, she offers a terrifying experience of a talking corpse and who tells how it feels to be dead, but alive at the same time. A walking dead like lady Lazarus with a featureless face is a fatigue of her own demise. Her dead body is a symbol of what can be called miraculous, but her sour breath and hollow eye pits reminds the reader that it’s not an angelic face of a woman in her prime thirsty, but a corpse who is alive to terrify it’s foes with all the vividness of death and what it brings about.
Similarly, to entice gothic element or Thacker’s world-without-us theory in the “The Castle of Otranto”, Horace Walpole used the medieval times “cryptic curse-trick” for Lord Manfred’s mystified life tale. The ancient curse; much popular in olden times; used to show unexpected and perplexed downfall of esteemed family by unexplainable means. The core reason of curse would have been some ill deed in the past by the ancestors, but this play its a bit perplexing itself, as :
“The castle should pass from the present family, whenever the real owner should be grown too large to inhabit it” (Mishra, 61).
Nevertheless, in “The castle of Otranto”, the curse entailed a righteous gothic element for Lord Manfred, these mystic supernatural forces were creating favourable circumstances for the rightful heir Theodore to reach his final destination (lordship and Princess Isabella’s hand in marriage). To give it more intensity to horror element, there is an appearing/disappearing giant, who sleeps and walks in the halls of Manfred’s castle and whose helmet killed Manfred’s son Conrad on his wedding day. The obtruding portraits, odd noises in the castle, and giant’s presence scares Manfred and in this terrified state he is desperate to save himself from the wrath of the curse (his death).
To add more horror in the poem, Sylvia adds the experience of a grave, where flesh of a human body is eaten by worms and the only thing left there is a hollow skeleton of the deceived. Grave becomes the home of this decaying body and there is no rational explanation for why and how one leaves their existing worldly lives and enter into another (grave). She calls it a world-without-experience where nothing makes sense. She claims that it’s her third death and with every death the process becomes easier and her death becomes more memorable and artistic and so is her coming back to life. Eugene Thacker calls the unexpected, irrational and unknown happenstances in life a product of our fear, where one is unable to weigh its rationality.
Likewise, Manfred the evil prince in order to secure himself from the wrath of the curse pushes Isabella to marry him, but universe is not favouring him at all. His evil efforts are futile and one can observe how Princess Isabella and Theodore run away from his capture, when he finally meets and agrees Isabella’s father to marry each other’s daughters. Eventually and unconsciously, his suspicious nature and dagger kills his own daughter Matilda. Horror is not just experiencing unexpected or unknown phenomena, but it’s rather loosing loved ones when one is destined to kill them by himself.
Mishra, Vijay. The Gothic Sublime. Albany (N.Y.: State university of New York press, 1994. Print.