Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Cedric the Saxon
Cedric the Saxon, the rude, warlike master of Rotherwood, a small landholder during the reign of Richard I. Obstinately hoping for Saxon independence, he wishes his ward, Lady Rowena, to marry Athelstane of Coningsburgh, a descendant of the ancient Saxon kings, and he disinherits his son, Wilfred of Ivanhoe, for learning Norman customs. When Ivanhoe returns from the Crusades and falls wounded after winning the tournament at Ashby-de-la-Zouche, Cedric allows him to be cared for by strangers. Captured by Normans, Cedric is taken to Torquilstone Castle, but he escapes and helps the besiegers take the castle. In the end he becomes somewhat reconciled to the marriage of Ivanhoe and Rowena and with Norman rule under King Richard I.
Wilfred of Ivanhoe
Wilfred of Ivanhoe, the chivalrous, disowned hero, a Crusader. Returning home disguised as a pilgrim, he befriends a Jew, Isaac of York, and his daughter Rebecca on the way to the tournament at Ashby. After defeating his opponents in the tourney, he reveals his true identity and faints from loss of blood while accepting the prize from Rowena. Captured with the Jew, along with Cedric and his party, he is cared for by Rebecca at Torquilstone and is rescued by the disguised King Richard. He repays Rebecca’s kindness by defending her when she is accused of witchcraft. After Athelstane relinquishes his claim to Rowena, Ivanhoe marries her and enjoys prosperity...
(The entire section is 850 words.)
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Themes and Characters
Mark Twain once claimed that Sir Walter Scott caused the American Civil War because his romances, such as Ivanhoe, helped to shape the Southern character, encouraging its devotion to outmoded notions of chivalry and to hopeless battles for impossible causes. Twain's hyperbole may correctly suggest that Scott is one of the great dramatists of history, but it implies an unfair judgment of the novel's theme. Scott's aim was not to glorify the past but to hold it up for the scrutiny of modern society. According to his own statements, he hoped to recreate scenes in which "our ancestors thought deeply, acted fiercely, and died desperately...in ignorance of each other's prejudices."
Ivanhoe investigates two related themes: bigotry in political, economic, and religious matters, and the shortcomings of the feudal system and its code of chivalry. From the early chapters, Scott explores the divisions between the privileged Normans and the downtrodden Saxons, encouraging the reader's sympathy for the oppressed Cedric the Saxon and his countrymen. With the introduction of Isaac the Jew, Scott compounds his analysis of prejudice. No longer can simple moral distinctions apply between the two races; Isaac and his daughter Rebecca must suffer the hate and ill-treatment of nearly everyone. Reviled as villains, the two more closely resemble victims by whom Scott can measure the cruelty of their oppressors and indict the society that rejects them. If the...
(The entire section is 785 words.)
Happily for the reader, the large number of characters in this novel generally falls into two categories; the Normans and the Saxons. Of the Normans, most of whom are represented as evil, the principal personages are Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, Sir Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, Maurice de Bracy, and Albert Malvoisin. On the Saxon "side" stand Cedric; his ward, the Lady Rowena; Wilfred of Ivanhoe; Gurth and Wamba; Athelstane (whose role is a small one, but whose devotion to chivalry and to Rowena, for whom he was initially intended in marriage, is admirable); and, somewhat surprisingly, Robin Hood and his men.
As might be expected, the introduction of Robin Hood, hero of fable and ballad, whose appearance in these forms did not occur until some two centuries after the setting of Ivanhoe, has caused considerable negative reaction. Some readers see this device as merely a way to enliven the action and to utilize the familiarity of most readers with a widely admired character. However, there is reason to believe that "outlaws" such as Locksley (Robin Hood's formal name) might well have lived and operated at the close of the twelfth century, a time when the oppression of the Norman authorities was severely felt by the Saxon underdogs.
What might be considered a third category of characters is the Jewish father and daughter, Isaac and Rebecca (whose departure for Spain at the close of the plot signifies a hope for a new way of life in a more liberal...
(The entire section is 476 words.)