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Ivanhoe

Sir Walter Scott

Chapters 37-40

Chapters 32-36

Chapters 41-44

Summary

The trial of Rebecca begins with a list of charges read against Brian de Bois-Guilbert--charges which are read and then dismissed on the grounds that Rebecca is truly to blame for the Templar's misdeeds. Supposed "witnesses" drummed up by Malvoisin testify that Rebecca possesses supernatural powers of healing; another witness paints a strange scene of her appearing on the parapet during the fight at Torquilstone. She seems certain to be found guilty, and de Bois-Guilbert urges her to ask for a champion in trial by combat. She does so, and the Templars dispatch a messenger to Isaac so that he may find a champion for her. De Bois-Guilbert believes that no champion may step forward, simply because knights are Christians and Rebecca is a Jew, and urges her to elope with him. Malvoisin is disgusted by his knight's obdurate affection for Rebecca, and again lectures him about his impropriety, demanding that he stay true to the course of his career as a Templar.

Wamba and the Black Knight travel through the forest, while Ivanhoe, recovering from his wounds in the priory of St. Botolph, struggles with the prior to be allowed to follow them. At last Ivanhoe sets out, having borrowed the prior's own horse to do so. Exchanging riddles, songs, and jests, Wamba and the Black Knight continue on their way; suddenly, a hail of arrows whizzes by them, and they are attacked by a large group of men-at-arms crying "Die, tyrant!"

The Knight and Wamba defend themselves, and they are aided by Locksley's outlaws. They rout the men-at-arms and discover that they are led by Waldemar Fitzurse. Fitzurse calls the Black Knight "Richard," and the Knight in turn removes his helmet and declares to all that he is King Richard, returned to England at last. Richard declares that Fitzurse is banished from England, but orders that Prince John not be held guilty for the attack. The Friar, dismayed that he unwittingly punched the king, is contrite, but Richard makes light of incident. As the men prepare to disperse, two travelers ride toward them in the forest.

Commentary

This section features two dramatic scenes that involve little in the way of thematic exploration. Rebecca's trial at Templestowe is carried out in such a way as to emphasize the horrible injustice of the proceeding, with manufactured witnesses and anti-Semitic vitriol completely obscuring the truth of Rebecca's innocence. (Keep in mind that the Templars are essentially attempting to burn Rebecca at the stake for being guilty of the kidnapping de Bois-Guilbert carried out against her.) This scene is Scott's most powerful statement in the novel against the medieval prejudice toward the Jews, a moral indictment designed to appeal to his reader's sense of enlightenment and fairness. The scene is played for maximum effect, with the beautiful, admirable, helpless Rebecca being threatened from all sides by hulking and immoral warriors, her closest ally being de Bois-Guilbert, the man who kidnapped her in the first place.

The second scene in this section, Richard's fight with Fitzurse and the revelation of his identity, recalls the earlier scene in which Ivanhoe made a similarly dramatic announcement after the tournament at Ashby-de-la-Zouche. Though Scott has not explicitly announced Richard's identity, he telegraphed it heavily during the fight at Torquilstone; the reader has almost certainly come to the conclusion that Richard is the Black Knight. But the drama of the battle in the forest plays perfectly into the romantic adventure of the novel. The scene is a fascinating blend of history (Richard really did make a dramatic return to England in 1194 and was forced to seize power from John and the nobility; he was actually re-crowned in April 1194) and fiction (Richard certainly did not participate in a forest battle in which Robin Hood saved his life). The blend is quite typical of Ivanhoe, which spins a fanciful adventure romance around a real historical occurrence and ultimately proposes its own story as a metaphor for a moment in English history.

Scott's historical judgment falls rather hard on Richard throughout this section, as his rule of England is contrasted with Robin Hood's rule of the forest. Richard is a valiant and brave man, but he is a fairly awful king, given that he has abandoned his subjects to pursue his dreams of victory in the Crusades. Robin, on the other hand, is a thief, not a king, but he has appointed himself a protector of the downtrodden Saxons, and he makes the well-being of the country his business. Part of the problem may be a tension between the code of chivalry, the honor code for medieval knights, and the code of behavior that determines a good king. As Ivanhoe explains it to Rebecca in Chapter 29,

The love of battle is the food upon which we live—the dust of the melee is the breath of our nostrils! We live not--we wish not to live--longer than while we are victorious and renowned. Such, maiden, are the laws of chivalry to which we are sworn.

But for a king, the matter of personal behavior requires far more temperance than this reckless code can comprehend. Ivanhoe is presented throughout the book as the epitome of the chivalric code, but in fact Richard perhaps embodies it even more successfully than Ivanhoe. Unfortunately, the proper behavior for Richard would be to restrain his own desire for excitement and tend to the well being of his subjects; his failure to do so earns him Scott's (and Ivanhoe's) criticism, though his courage is clearly the stuff of legend.

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