Manuel: A Tragedy

Manuel: A Tragedy, in Five Acts: As Performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury-Lane

Author: Charles Robert Maturin
Publisher: William Clowes
Publication Year: 1817
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 13.5cm x 20.7cm
Pages: 84
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.M38 M 1817

Material History

Upon inspection, the reader notices a pulpy, light brown, paperback cover with a rough texture. No inscriptions or details are presented on the cover. The book is 20.7 cm (length) by 13.5 cm (width), easily held in one hand. Opening the cover, the reader is introduced to rough, off-white paper pages; a yellowish tint extends throughout the page, becoming more prominent towards the edges. The inner binding contains paper remnants from the cover, indicative of wear. The text appears in shades of black – the tone of some words lighter than others – with ink bleeds appearing at the edges of the text periodically. Additionally, the reader is presented with the title – “Manuel, A Tragedy, In Five Acts: As performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury-Lane” – in unequal font sizes; “Manuel” is illustrated in larger font, comparatively. The title reveals the work as a rendition of “Manuel” performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury-Lane in London, UK, which is a theatre of historical significance, since it is the oldest theatre in continuous use. Additionally, this page depicts the author as “The Author of Bertram,” alluding that the author wished to remain anonymous while expanding on the popularity of his past work, Bertram. This is a second edition of Manuel. In the lower righthand corner, “Maturin 256” is written in pencil, a signature unique to this version.

Extending into the text, the reader is presented with a casting list from this rendition of “Manuel”; the characters are ordered by importance. Additionally, the scene, “Cordova, afterwards Almunecar,” and the time, “After the Battle of Tolosa, in which the Spaniards defeated the Moors in the neighborhood of Cordova,” are depicted in italics. Before the preface, the author’s name – Rev. R. C. Maturin – is presented; this is peculiar, as the author conceals his name succeeding the title. The preface is illustrated in sizeable, easily read text.

The play is presented in acts, with each act separated into scenes. Each scene is prefaced with an italicized description of the setting. Contrasted with the preface, the main text is exhibited in a smaller font; although, the text is easily legible. Consistent with articulated versions of plays, the speaker’s name is presented before their lines. Italicized stage directions are presented periodically within the text, providing a unique illustration of the performance of the play. Each page is denoted with a page number in the upper righthand corner. Additionally, a letter adjacent to a number is presented in a smaller font on the bottom of the page, proceeding in alphabetical order as the text progresses; these were used as printing instructions for the publisher, guiding the correct ordering of the pages.

The text ends with an epilogue and a small imprint by the publisher in the lower left-hand corner of the final page: “Printed by W. Cloves, Northumberland-court, Strand, London.” Furthermore, the initials “GW” are inscribed in pencil in the lower right-hand corner of this page, likely from a previous owner.

Textual History

Manuel: A Tragedy was produced on March 8, 1817, by Reverend Charles Robert Maturin. Maturin was born on September 25, 1780, in Dublin, Ireland – the last of six children. He was a curate of the church of St. Peters, where he wrote many of his early works, including Bertram, considered one of his notable pieces. Manuel was originally performed at the Drury Lane theater in London, one of the oldest London theaters still utilized. Manuel has been rendered in various formats since its inception; this version is a rendition from the performance at Drury Lane. Therefore, this interpretation contains the actors and actresses of the original performance. Furthermore, this is a second edition work, published by William Cloves in Northumberland-court, Strand, London. Cloves was a printer by trade; he was responsible for implementing cutting-edge technological innovations, including being a pioneer in the utilization of the double sheet technique for printing books (Weedon).

In this edition, the author is presented as “The Author of Bertram,” where the following acknowledgements section lists Maturin as the author. The preface may provide some insight into this choice. In the preface, Maturin expresses that he was frustrated his previous work, Bertram, received little criticism by reviewers; he states that critique is necessary for improvement in his writing, and is something that he appreciates. Furthermore, he emphasizes that there was little emotional attachment to Bertram, which he implies is an element he wishes to enhance (“Memoir of Maturin” 166). Critics seem to corroborate Maturin’s sentiments; a memoir of Maturin states that while Bertram and Manuel have their flaws, they are unique: “They all appear purely the works of the author’s mind. They are, as Johnson says – ‘Painted out with resolute deliberation;’ – his characters have no prototype in nature or life – they never existed, and never could have existed – yet they are not unnatural” (“Memoir of Maturin” 166). Additionally, Maturin discarded some scenes upon the publishing of Manuel; The New Monthly Magazine lists unpublished scenes from various acts (“Unpublished Scenes” 236).

Narrative Point of View

Manuel: A Tragedy is a play featuring primarily dialogue from various characters, identified by the character’s name (or an abbreviation of their name) leading their script. The narration is sometimes archaic; lengthy, sophisticated passages depict meaningful plot events. Being mainly dialogue, no insights are given into the thoughts of the characters; their emotions and actions are conveyed through discourse. Before each scene, there is a brief narration describing the setting; occasionally, this features descriptions of the characters. Italicized script occurs periodically, depicting the movements and facial expressions of the actors as performed at Drury-Lane. Scene III of Act IV presents an inclusive depiction of these elements:

Scene III.
The Hall of Justice. Mendizabel, seated under a
canopy, at once side – De Zelos on a splendid seat
near him – Judges, Attendants. Mendizabel, sud-
denly recollecting himself, and starting from his
seat, draws De Zelos to the front of the stage.

Mend. My noble lord,
A word with you: – A trifle, but a strange one,
Had well nigh made my memory a truant:
A trifle – yet to this day’s claim it doth
An indistinct and strange relation bear: –
This morn, a muffled stranger, darkly wrapt,
With marvellous and ceaseless importunity,
O’erbore my train’s resistance ere I rose,
And rush’d into my chamber. –
Like some dark phantom by my couch it stood,
And seem’d to wrestle with some horrible image.
I gazed upon him till, with heaving utterance,
As if a giant’s hand grappled his through,
He muttered forth “De Zelos is a villain!” – the
De Zel. (Starting as from a trance) You did
not see his face? (Maturin 39)

The narration of Manuel almost entirely through dialogue offers the reader an unbiased perspective on the characters and their interactions, and allows the reader to have the perspective of the audience of a live play. The plethora of punctuation serves to induce pauses while reading, accentuating plot elements and mimicking the pacing of the dialogue of the actors when Manuel was performed. By preventing the discovery of thoughts until characters articulate them aloud, the play provides suspense and preserves future plot events.


Preface: Maturin states that his former work, Bertram, received little criticism, which is an integral component of his writing process. He also mentions that Bertram had little emotional appeal, which he recognizes as a fault of his writing.

Act I: The play commences in a monastery situated in Cordova. Perez (a servant) and Moncalde (a monk) enter, expressing their admiration for Alonzo, Don Manuel’s son – a revered nobleman. They wait for Alonzo, who has traveled to war. The kinsman to Don Manuel, De Zelos, was the supposed heir to Manuel’s fortune; when Alonzo was born, the inheritance was transferred to him, squandering De Zelos’s plan to alleviate his financial troubles. De Zelos enters the scene, expressing disdain for Alonzo; these emotions precipitate from jealousy. De Zelos further articulates his financial perils to his son, Torrismond. Ximena, De Zelos’s daughter, worries about Alonzo; she is attracted to him.

Don Manuel hosts a feast at his castle, inviting the kinsmen; he expects the return of his son from war. The kinsmen gladly accept. Ximena is excited to see Alonzo; she expresses her feelings to her father, who scorns the idea. The patrons wait at Manuel’s castle, the night growing late; Alonzo has not yet returned. Waiting, they revere Alonzo and share stories of war. Finally, Alonzo’s horn is heard; his page enters the scene without Alonzo.

The page is confused, since he thought Alonzo already returned; Alonzo decided to travel ahead of his cavaliers, hoping to reach home earlier. Alonzo’s war-steed arrives home without him, worrying the guests. Manuel becomes frantic, baselessly accusing De Zelos of his murder.

Act II: The kinsmen and servants search for Alonzo in the woods, obstructed by a vicious storm. Victoria – Alonzo’s sister – retains hope and attempts to calm her father, Manuel. Torrismond and Victoria share past feelings for each other; Victoria shuts him down, unable to express her true emotions in distress. Manuel becomes more anxious without word of Alonzo; he still believes De Zelos murdered him.

Moncalde returns with no sight of Alonzo, although, he reports that a peasant heard cries near the time and place Alonzo went missing. The peasant does not have further details; Manuel presses him, believing the peasant is concealing information.

De Zelos enters, hearing of Manuel’s accusations against him; he denies the allegations, proclaiming his innocence. Manuel does not believe him, requesting a trial. The judge, Mendizabel, states that De Zelos is innocent until proven guilty; he tries to silence Manuel, stating that his accusations have no merit. Manuel departs for Cordova to garner support; Victoria tries to convince him otherwise, as the storm rages.

Act III: With Alonzo missing, Ximena’s passion for him grows. De Zelos continues to scold Ximena for her feelings, stating that Mendizabel would be a more suitable husband. They continue to argue over this matter; De Zelos wants to bias Mendizabel’s ruling by offering his daughter’s hand.

The patrons situate in the court, waiting for the trial to commence. Mendizabel talks with De Zelos privately, stating that a moor claims him as a villain. De Zelos continues to deny these allegations. The trial commences. De Zelos laughs at the accusations made against him, declaring they have no merit; Manuel is enraged at his demeanor. He continues to accuse De Zelos without evidence, other than that De Zelos hated Alonzo. De Zelos states that if he truly hated Alonzo, he would have murdered him as an infant, going into detailed hypotheticals of ways he could have performed the act. Manuel uses these depictions to qualify De Zelos’s hate towards Alonzo. After more dialogue, Manuel combusts and strangles De Zelos out of agitation, trying to force him to confess.

Mendizabel states Manuel is a maniac and acquits De Zelos. Manuel is upset with this ruling and challenges De Zelos to a duel. Perez enters, stating that he found Alonzo’s broken spear and helm, further verifying Alonzo’s murder. Manuel becomes more enraged, his hate towards De Zelos growing.

Act IV: De Zelos prepares his champion, Torrismond, for battle.Manuel, losing his son, does not have a champion to represent himself; old, feeble, and distraught, he decides to fight Torrismond. De Zelos worries for his son and offers to fight himself; Torrismond finds this act as further evidence of his innocence.

The crowd agrees Manuel is insane; Mendizabel observes this, stating he will exile Manuel, causing forfeiture of his fortune. De Zelos expresses admiration for Mendizabel, stating he will give him Ximena’s hand in marriage.

The fight is about to commence. At the last minute, a stranger agrees to fight for Manuel. Torrismond easily defeats the stranger, causing further outrage from Manuel; he believes that the stranger was hired to lose. De Zelos is acquitted with confidence.

Act V: Manuel is banished to a small apartment, growing weaker each day; he is accompanied by Victoria. Victoria expresses her feelings for Torrismond. Fueled by his disdain for De Zelos, Manuel wishes she marry Torrismond after he passes.

Manuel starts hearing voices, causing others to further question his mental stability. He states that the voices chanted Alonzo’s name, and he wishes to follow them. In his unstable state, Manuel departs to discover the voices’ origins.

Manuel discovers Ximena; he wants to take revenge through her murder. Ximena claims her father’s innocence and states that she loves Alonzo. After hearing this, Manuel drops his dagger and embraces Ximena.

Ximena states that she discovered a dying wretch who claims Alonzo’s enemy was bribed to kill him. The wretch did not disclose a name, but he gave Ximena a dagger that bears the name of the killer. Torrismond grabs the dagger, hoping it will clear his father’s name.

Torrismond presents the dagger to Mendizabel, who unsheathes it; it has De Zelos etched on it. Once discovered, De Zelos stabs himself. Witnessing this horrific scene, Mendizabel dies from terror.


“Extracts from some Unpublished Scenes of ‘Manuel’.” The New Monthly Magazine and Universal Register, April 1819, p. 236.

Maturin, Charles Robert. Manuel: A Tragedy, In Five Acts: As Performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury-Lane. Second ed. John Murray, 1817.

Miles, Robert. “Maturin, Charles Robert (1780–1824), writer and Church of England clergyman.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 23 September 2004. Oxford University Press, Accessed 10 April 2024.

“Memoir of the Rev. C. R. Maturin.” The New Monthly Magazine and Universal Register, March 1819, pp. 165­–7.

Weedon, Alexis. “Clowes, William (1779–1847), printer.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 September 2004. Oxford University Press, Accessed 10 April 2024.

Researcher: Tyler Arnold

How to cite this page:

MLA: “Manuel: A Tragedy.” Project Gothic, University of Virginia, 2024,