Critical Evaluation

To a historical novelist such as Sir Walter Scott, vivid and accurate settings were invaluable tools for summoning a past age. Nowhere in his novels is his masterful use of setting more central to theme and meaning than in Kenilworth. In this novel of love and intrigue in Elizabethan England, the moral statements dramatized by the story are strengthened by their association with either of the two places where all the major action occurs—Cumnor Place and Kenilworth. Both places are described in highly charged images and richly symbolic language. Cumnor Place is like a gilded prison. Lavishly decorated, its rooms sumptuously comfortable and filled with expensive finery, it is nevertheless designed as a place of detainment and hiding. In one vivid, eerie passage, Scott describes its specially designed oaken shutters and thick drapes, which allow the rooms to be ablaze with light without the slightest flicker showing to an observer on the outside. Leicester uses this strictly private place as the hiding place for his wife and as a place of escape from court life for himself. He travels to Cumnor Place in disguise, and while there he sheds the finery that identifies and validates him at court.

By contrast, Kenilworth is a public manor house. With the entire court and nobility preparing for the royal entertainments, it exhibits all the pomp and splendor of a regal palace; it is literally exploding with feverish activity. The atmosphere at Kenilworth is one of unreality; in his initial picture of the place, Scott describes a row of guards along the battlements who are intended to represent King Arthur’s knights—but uncannily, some are real men, some mere...

(The entire section is 685 words.)