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Ivanhoe

Sir Walter Scott

Study Questions

Analytical Overview

Quiz

What is Scott's judgment about King Richard's gallant behavior? What possible tension exists between the code of chivalry and the rules of behavior that govern kings?

The ultimate verdict on King Richard seems to be that he is an impressive, even awe-inspiring, man, but that he leaves much to be desired as a king. Specifically, he is willing to abandon his people and ignore their well-being in order to seek adventure. Ivanhoe says as much in Chapter 41 and though Richard replies by saying that he had to travel about in disguise, because his forces are not yet marshaled in England for him to reveal himself, this does not answer the larger question of his abandonment of England for the Crusades. Richard seems to adhere to the code of chivalry, an honor code governing the behavior of knights which stipulates that personal glory and prowess in combat are the paramount considerations. (Ivanhoe is the perfect example of a chivalric knight.) Unfortunately, a king must act far more soberly and with far greater care than a knight, simply because he is responsible for the well-being of an entire country.

Compare and contrast Rowena and Rebecca. What are the different difficulties faced by each of the women? How do those difficulties relate to their cultural differences--the fact that one of them is a Saxon and the other is a Jew?

In many ways, Rebecca and Rowena are quite similar: They are both beautiful, virtuous, loyal, and self-possessed; they each contend with strong-willed fathers, and they each love Ivanhoe. The main difference that emerges between them in the book is simply due to the different challenges they face: Rebecca often seems more sympathetic to readers simply because she does more, because she heals Ivanhoe and is forced to contend with her own feelings, while Rowena simply acts on her feelings. But Rebecca's large presence in the book is due at least in part to circumstance: She happens to be the person who tends to Ivanhoe after his injury at Ashby and thus puts herself in the position of falling in love with him; she simply happens to be the woman Brian de Bois-Guilbert decides to pursue, putting her in the position of being victimized at Templestowe. However, another part of the difference is due to the women's cultural backgrounds: As a Saxon, Rowena is a second-class citizen, but as a Jew, Rebecca is truly beneath everyone in the social hierarchy of twelfth-century England. The very fact that Rebecca must fight against her feelings for Ivanhoe, which makes her so sympathetic to readers, is due in large part to the impossibility of them ever being together--because she is a Jew. And the fact that the Templars are able to try her as a sorceress with no evidence whatsoever is also due to the fact that she is Jewish: They would never have done the same to a Christian Saxon such as Rowena.

One of the strange things about Ivanhoe as a hero story is that the hero plays such a small part in the story: Ivanhoe is out of commission with an injury for nearly two-thirds of the book, the narrative is almost never shown from his perspective, and he actually fails in the climactic battle at the end of the book. Why is he the hero? Why is he the title character?

The main reason Ivanhoe is the title character of the novel is that he represents a way for Saxons to live in Norman society without being subjugated by or at odds with the Normans. Ivanhoe is deeply loyal to King Richard, becomes the king's close friend, and is richly rewarded by the king for his valiant behavior in the Crusades. The principal social conflict in Ivanhoe is the tension between Saxons and Normans in the absence of King Richard; Ivanhoe embodies a way for that tension to be resolved, and he becomes a metaphor for its resolution. Further, Ivanhoe is presented as the flower of chivalry: Despite his relative inactivity, Ivanhoe is still the only good knight in the book. The book could possibly have been titled The Black Knight, but it could never have been called Cedric or Brian de Bois-Guilbert.

With particular attention to the first chapter of the book, what has caused the conflict between the Saxons and the Normans? Who, if anyone, is to blame? What are some of the consequences of the conflict for each group?

Think about the novel's portrayal of religion in medieval English life. With particular attention to characters such as the Templars, Prior Aymer, Friar Tuck, and the palmer, what does Scott seem to say about the medieval church?

Many of the important characters in Ivanhoe spend time in various disguises, including Ivanhoe, Richard, Wamba, and Cedric. What role does the motif of disguise play in the novel as a whole? Why do characters take such pains to hide their identities?

"As a general rule, there is no character development in Ivanhoe; characters are the same at the end of the book as they were at the beginning." Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why?

Women play a decidedly limited part in the story, often discussed solely in terms of their marriageability. (There are three prospective suitors for Rowena alone.) But women, particularly Ulrica and Rebecca, are also among the most vivid, sympathetic, and believable characters in the novel. What exactly is the role of women in Ivanhoe? How does Scott portray them? In terms of social prejudice and psychological accuracy, do you think his portrayal is objectionable, acceptable, or admirable by the standards of his own time? What about by the standards of our time?

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