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Ivanhoe Is The Story English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3212 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Other major characters include Ivanhoes intractable Saxon father, Cedric, a descendant of the Saxon King Harold Godwinson; variousKnights Templar and churchmen; the loyal serfs Gurth the swineherd and the jester Wamba, whose observations punctuate much of the action; and the Jewish moneylender, Isaac of York, who is equally passionate about money and his daughter, Rebecca. The book was written and published during a period of increasing struggle for emancipation of the Jews in England, and there are frequent references to injustice against them

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Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe is disinherited by his father Cedric of Rotherwood for supporting the Norman King Richard and for falling in love with the Lady Rowena, Cedric’s ward and a descendant of the Saxon Kings of England. Cedric had planned to marry her to the powerful Lord Aethelstane, pretender to the Saxon Crown of England, thus cementing a Saxon political alliance between two rivals for the same claim. Ivanhoe accompanies King Richard on the Crusades, where he is said to have played a notable role in the Siege of Acre.

The book opens with a scene of Norman knights and prelates seeking the hospitality of Cedric. They are guided there by a palmer, who has recently returned from the Holy Land. The same night, seeking refuge from inclement weather and bandits, the Jew Isaac of York arrives at Rotherwood. Following the night’s meal, the palmer observes one of the Normans, the Templar Brian de Bois-Guilbert, issue orders to hisSaracen soldiers to follow Isaac of York after he leaves Rotherwood in the morning and relieve him of his possessions.

The palmer then warns the Jewish moneylender of his peril and assists in his escape from Rotherwood. The swineherd Gurth refuses to open the gates until the palmer whispers a few words in his ear, which turns Gurth as helpful as he was recalcitrant earlier. This is but one of the many mysterious incidents that occur throughout the book.

Isaac of York offers to repay his debt to the palmer by offering him a suit of armour and a war horse, to participate in the tournament atAshby-de-la-Zouch where he was bound. His offer is made on the surmise that the palmer was in reality a knight, having observed his knight’s chain and spurs (a fact that he mentions to the palmer). Though the palmer is taken by surprise, he accepts the offer

The Tournament

The story then moves to the scene of the tournament, which is presided over by Prince John of England. Other characters in attendance are Cedric, Aethelstane, the Lady Rowena, Isaac of York, his daughter Rebecca, Robin of Locksley and his men, Prince John’s advisor Waldemar Fitzurse, and numerous Norman knights.

On the first day of the tournament, a bout of individual jousting, a mysterious masked knight, identifying himself only as “Desdichado” (which is described in the book as Spanish for the “Disinherited One”, though actually meaning “Unfortunate”), makes his appearance and manages to defeat some of the best Norman lances, including Bois-Guilbert, Maurice de Bracy, a leader of a group of “Free Companions” (mercenary knights), and the baron Reginald Front-de-Boeuf. The masked knight declines to reveal himself despite Prince John’s request, but is nevertheless declared the champion of the day and is permitted to choose the Queen of the Tournament. He bestows this honour upon the Lady Rowena.

On the second day, which is a melée, Desdichado is chosen to be leader of one party. Most of the leading knights of the realm, however, flock to the opposite standard under which Desdichado’s vanquished opponents fought. Desdichado’s side is soon hard pressed and he himself beset by multiple foes, when a knight who had until then taken no part in the battle, thus earning the sobriquet Le Noir Faineant (or the Black Sluggard), rides to Desdichado’s rescue. The rescuing knight, having evened the odds by his action, then slips away. Though Desdichado was instrumental in the victory, Prince John being displeased with his behaviour of the previous day, wishes to bestow his accolades on the vanished Black Knight. Since the latter has departed, he is forced to declare Desdichado the champion. At this point, being forced to unmask himself to receive his coronet, Desdichado is revealed to be Wilfred of Ivanhoe himself, returned from the Crusades. This causes much consternation to Prince John and his court who now fear the imminent return of King Richard.

Because he is severely wounded in the competition and because Cedric refuses to have anything to do with him, Ivanhoe is taken into the care of Rebecca, the beautiful daughter of Isaac, who is a skilled healer. She convinces her father to take him with them to York, where he may be best treated. The story then goes over the conclusion of the tournament including feats of archery by Locksley.

Capture and rescue

Meanwhile, de Bracy finds himself infatuated with the Lady Rowena and, with his companions-in-arms, makes plans to abduct her. In the forests between Ashby and York, the Lady Rowena, Cedric, and Aethelstane encounter Isaac, Rebecca, and the wounded Ivanhoe, who had been abandoned by their servants for fear of bandits. The Lady Rowena, in response to the requests of Isaac and Rebecca, urges Cedric to take the group under his protection to York. Cedric agrees although he is unaware that the wounded man is Ivanhoe. En route, the party is captured by de Bracy and his companions and taken to Torquilstone, the castle of Front-de-Boeuf. However, the swineherd Gurth, who had run away from Rotherwood to serve Ivanhoe as squire at the tournament and who was recaptured by Cedric when Ivanhoe was identified, manages to escape.

le Noir Faineant in the Hermit’s Cell by J. Cooper, Sr. From an 1886 edition of Walter Scott’s works

The Black Knight, having taken refuge for the night in the hut of a local friar, the Holy Clerk of Copmanhurst, volunteers his assistance on learning about the captives from Robin of Locksley, who had come to rouse the friar for an attempt to free them. They then besiege the Castle of Torquilstone with Robin’s own men, including the friar and assorted Saxon yeomen whom they had manage to raise due to the hatred of Front-de-Boeuf and his neighbour, Philip de Malvoisin.

At Torquilstone, de Bracy expresses his love for the Lady Rowena, but is refused. In the meantime, de Bois-Guilbert, who had accompanied de Bracy on the raid, takes Rebecca for his captive, and tries to force his attentions on her, which are rebuffed. Front-de-Boeuf, in the meantime, tries to wring a hefty ransom, by torture, from Isaac of York. However, Isaac refuses to pay a farthing unless his daughter is freed from her Templar captor.

When the besiegers deliver a note to yield up the captives, their Norman captors retort with a message for a priest to administer the Final Sacrament to the captives. It is then that Cedric’sjester Wamba slips in disguised as a priest, and takes the place of Cedric, who then escapes and brings important information to the besiegers on the strength of the garrison and its layout.

Then follows an account of the storming of the castle. Front-de-Boeuf is killed while de Bracy surrenders to the Black Knight, who identifies himself as King Richard. Showing mercy, he releases de Bracy. De Bois-Guilbert escapes with Rebecca while Isaac is released from his underground dungeon by the Clerk of Copmanhurst. The Lady Rowena is saved by Cedric, while the still-wounded Ivanhoe is rescued from the burning castle by King Richard. In the fighting, Aethelstane is wounded while attempting to rescue Rebecca, whom he mistakes for Rowena


According to critic Joseph Duncan, critics of the novel have treated it as a “romantic illusion” of the past meant to entertain boys. [3] Ivanhoe maintains many of the basic elements of the romance including the quest, a chivalric setting, and the overthrowing of a corrupt social order in order to bring on a time of happiness.[4]However, to critics like Kenneth Sroka and Joseph Duncan the novel does not seek to create a romanticized view of the past but instead creates a more realistic and vibrant story neither glorifying the past nor the main character.[3][4]


Scott treats similar themes to some of his earlier novels, like Rob Roy and The Heart of Midlothian, examining the conflict between heroic ideals and modern society. Whereas in the other novels, industrial society becomes the center of this conflict as the backward Scottish nationalists and the “advanced” English have to arise from chaos to create unity, similarly the Normans, who represent a more sophisticated culture, and the Saxons, who are much simpler and plainer than the Normans, in Ivanhoe represent the meshing of two societies to create a whole. The conflict between the Saxons and Normans focuses on the losses both groups must experience before they can be reconciled and thus create a united England. The particular loss is in the extremes of their own cultural values, which must be disproved in order for the society to function. For the Saxons this value is the final admittance of the hopelessness of the Saxon cause and the Normans must learn to overcome the materialism and violence in their own chivalric codes. Ivanhoe and Richard represent the hope of reconciliation for a unified future.[3]

[edit]Allusions to real history and geography

The location of the novel is centred upon South Yorkshire and North Nottinghamshire in England. Castles mentioned within the story includeAshby de la Zouch Castle (now a ruin in the care of English Heritage), York (though the mention of Clifford’s Tower, likewise a still standing English Heritage property, is anachronistic, it not having been called that until later after various rebuilds) and ‘Coningsburgh’, which is based upon Conisbrough Castle, in the ancient town of Conisbrough near Doncaster (the castle also being a popular English Heritage site). Reference is made within the story to the York Minster, where the climactic wedding takes place, and to the Bishop of Sheffield, despite theDiocese of Sheffield not being founded until 1914. These references within the story contribute to the notion that Robin Hood lived or travelled in and around this area.

Conisbrough has become so dedicated to the story of Ivanhoe that many of the streets, schools and public buildings are named after either characters from the book or the 12th-century castle.

[edit]Lasting influence on the Robin Hood legend

The modern-day conception of Robin Hood as a cheerful, decent, patriotic rebel owes much to Ivanhoe.

“Locksley” becomes Robin Hood’s title in the Scott novel, and it has been used ever since by the authors of various books and screenplays dealing with the fictional outlaw. Scott appears to have taken the name from an anonymous manuscript – written in 1600 – that employs “Locksley” as an epithet for Robin Hood. Owing to Scott’s decision to make use of the manuscript, Robin Hood from Locksley has been transformed for all time into “Robin of Locksley”, alias Robin Hood. (There is, incidentally, a village called Loxley in Yorkshire.)

Scott makes the 12th-century’s Saxon-Norman conflict a major theme in his novel. The conflict was first mentioned as a possible influence on the development of Robin Hood folklore by the 18th-century writer and editor Joseph Ritson. It remains a pervasive element in more recent retellings of the outlaw’s legend through Scott’s literary legacy.

Conversely, Scott shuns the late 16th-century convention of depicting Robin as a dispossessed nobleman (the Earl of Huntingdon). This, however, has not prevented Scott from making an important contribution to the noble-hero strand of the legend, too, because some subsequent motion picture treatments of the outlaw’s adventures (most notably a lavish 1922 silent film and 1991’s box-office success Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) give Robin traits that are characteristic of Ivanhoe. Both Ivanhoe and Robin, for instance, are returning Crusaders. They have quarreled with their respective fathers, they are proud to be Saxons, they display a well-developed sense of justice, they support the rightful king even though he is of Norman-French ancestry, they are adept with weapons, and they each fall in love with a “fair maid” (Rowena in one case, Marian in the other).

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In the most recent cinematic version of the legend, released in 2010, Robin is once again portrayed as a returning Crusader with parental issues – although this time not a knight but a tough and resourceful Saxon bowman. Furthermore, the 2010 film perpetuates into the 21st century the practice of depicting Robin as a contemporary of King Richard I. This particular time-frame was popularized by Scott. He borrowed it, presumably to make the plot of his novel more gripping, from the writings of the 16th-century chronicler John Mair or a 17th-century ballad. Medieval balladeers had generally placed Robin about two centuries later, in the reign of one of the first three kings of post-Conquest England named Edward.

Robin’s familiar feat of splitting his competitor’s arrow in an archery contest appears for the first time in Ivanhoe.

[edit]Historical accuracy

The general political events depicted in the novel are relatively accurate; it tells of the period just after King Richard’s imprisonment in Austria following the Crusade, and of his return to England after a ransom is paid. Yet the story is also heavily fictionalized. Scott himself acknowledged that he had taken liberties with history in his “Dedicatory Epistle” to Ivanhoe. Modern readers are cautioned to understand that Scott’s aim was to create a compelling novel set in a historical period, not to provide a book of history.

During the period in which Ivanhoe is set, the nobility would have spoken a mixture of Medieval English and Medieval French.[5] The novel was written in contemporary English for a mass audience, in the same way that mainstream Hollywood movies depicting the Second World War commonly depict German characters talking in English.

There has been criticism, “… as unsupported by the evidence of contemporary records”, of Scott’s portrayal of the bitter extent of the “enmity of Saxon and Norman, represented as persisting in the days of Richard I, which forms the basis of the story.”.[6] However, historian Michael Wood delivers a firm rebuttal of this view. He quotes the 13th-century writer Robert Manning as saying “… the English have been held in subjection ever since the Conquest”.[7]

This particular line of criticism also misses the obvious parallels that existed between the story’s background (England conquered by the Normans in 1066, when they killed Saxon King Harold at Hastings, about 130 years previously) and the prevailing situation in Scott’s Scotland (Scotland’s union with England in 1707 – about the same length of time had elapsed before Scott’s writing and the resurgence in his time of Scottish nationalism evidenced by the cult of Robert Burns, the famous poet who deliberately chose to work in Scots vernacular though he was an educated man and spoke modern English eloquently).[8] Indeed, some experts suggest that Scott deliberately usedIvanhoe to illustrate his own combination of Scottish patriotism and pro-British Unionism.[9][10]

One inaccuracy in Ivanhoe created a new name in the English language: Cedric. The original Saxon name is Cerdic but Sir Walter mis-spelled it, the lasting effects of which are an example of metathesis. Satirist H. H. Munro commented, “It is not a name but a misspelling.”

In 1194 England, it would have been unlikely for Rebecca to face the threat of being burned at the stake on charges of witchcraft. It is thought that it was shortly afterwards, from the 1250s, that the Church began to undertake the finding and punishment of witches and death did not become the usual penalty until the 15th century. Even then, the form of execution used for witches in England (unlike Scotland and Continental Europe) was hanging, burning being reserved for those also convicted of treason. However, the method of Rebecca’s execution is presented as proposed by Lucas Beaumanoir, Grand Master of the Knights Templar – a Frenchman and a fanatic, determined to root out “corruption” from the Templars. It is quite plausible that Beaumanoir, like many nobles of the time, would have considered himself above the law and entitled to execute a witch in any way that he chose. Witch hunts were enough of a cultural problem in Europe that even as early as 785, the church made the burning of witches a crime itself punishable by death.

The novel’s references to the Moorish king Boabdil are anachronistic, since he lived about 300 years after Richard.

In summary, “For a [Scottish] writer whose early novels [all set in Scotland] were prized for their historical accuracy, Scott was remarkably loose with the facts when he wrote Ivanhoe… But it is crucial to remember that Ivanhoe, unlike the Waverly books, is entirely a romance. It is meant to please, not to instruct, and is more an act of imagination than one of research. Despite this fancifulness, however, Ivanhoe does make some prescient historical points. The novel is occasionally quite critical of King Richard, who seems to love adventure more than he loves the well-being of his subjects. This criticism did not match the typical idealized, romantic view of Richard the Lion-Hearted that was popular when Scott wrote the book, and yet it accurately echoes the way King Richard is often judged by historians today.”[11]

[edit]Rebecca Gratz as inspiration for the character Rebecca

It has been conjectured that the character of Rebecca in the book was inspired by Rebecca Gratz, a preeminent American educator andphilanthropist who was the first Jewish female college student in the United States. Scott’s attention had been drawn to Gratz’s character byWashington Irving, who was a close friend of the Gratz family. The claim has been disputed, but it has also been well sustained in an article entitled “The Original of Rebecca in Ivanhoe”, which appeared in The Century Magazine, 1882, pp. 679-682.

Gratz was considered among the most beautiful and educated women in her community. She never married, and is alleged to have refused a marriage proposal from a Gentile on account of her faith – a well-known incident at the time, which may have inspired the relationship depicted in the book between Rebecca and Ivanhoe.


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