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 under Richard’s rule.
Lady Rowena, Cedric’s beautiful ward. At Rotherwood, she inquires of Ivanhoe’s exploits from the disguised knight himself, becomes the tournament queen at his request, and learns his identity after he is declared victor. Seized by Norman knights, she is saved from the advances of a captor and the Torquilstone fire by the timely intervention of Richard, Cedric, and Robin Hood. Happy when Athelstane disclaims her, she weds Ivanhoe.
Isaac of York
Isaac of York, an avaricious but kindly Jew. He supplies Ivanhoe with a horse and armor for the tournament and takes him off to be cared for after the knight has been wounded. Isaac is taken prisoner and about to be tortured for his gold when rescuers lay siege to the castle. He is set free but forced to pay a ransom. Learning of his daughter’s abduction at the hands of haughty Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, he sends for Ivanhoe to rescue her. Sick of England, he and his daughter move to Spain.
Rebecca, the generous, lovely daughter of Isaac of York who returns Ivanhoe’s payment for the horse and armor and nurses his wound. She is carried off by an enamoured Templar during the siege. Accused of witchcraft at Templar headquarters, she is rescued from burning by the exhausted Ivanhoe’s defense.
Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert
Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert (bree-AH[N] deh BWAH-gheel-BEHR), the fierce and passionate Templar who kidnaps Rebecca, deserts her because of Templar politics, and fights a fatal battle against her defender, Ivanhoe.
Richard the Lion-Hearted
Richard the Lion-Hearted, an audacious, hardy king. Secretly returning to England, he saves Ivanhoe’s life at the tournament and leads the siege of Torquilstone. After thwarting an ambush, he throws off his disguise of the “Black Sluggard” and claims his rightful throne.
Robin Hood (Locksley)
Robin Hood (Locksley), the famed outlaw. He wins an archery contest, supports Richard during the siege of Torquilstone, and becomes a loyal subject of the restored king.
Athelstane of Coningsburgh
Athelstane of Coningsburgh, the sluggish Saxon knight who half-heartedly woos Rowena and loses fights with Richard and Bois-Guilbert.
Maurice de Bracy
Maurice de Bracy (moh-REES deh brah-SEE ), an...
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ambitious Norman who captures Rowena; however, he possesses too much honor to pursue his designs on her.
Reginald Front de Boeuf
Reginald Front de Boeuf (ray-zhee-NAHL froh[n] deh behf), the savage Norman who seizes Isaac for his gold. He dies of a wound inflicted by Richard amid the flames of Torquilstone.
Prince John, Richard’s haughty, unscrupulous brother, who has tried to usurp the throne with the aid of the Norman nobles.
Lucas de Beaumanoir
Lucas de Beaumanoir (lew-KAH deh boh-mah-NWAHR), the bigoted, ascetic head of the Templars who presides over Rebecca’s trial on a charge of witchcraft. His order is disbanded by Richard because of treasonous activities and plotting against the king and the realm.
Philip Malvoisin (fee-LEEP mal-vwah-ZAH[N]) and
Albert Malvoisin, Templars executed by King Richard for treason.
Waldemar Fitzurse (VAHL-deh-mahr FIHT-tsur-seh), Prince John’s wily, aspiring follower, who is banished by Richard.
Aymer (AY-mehr), the comfort-loving prior of Jorvaulx, who is captured by Robin Hood and forced to pay a ransom.
Ulrica (ewl-REE-kah), the Saxon hag who burns Torquilstone in order to be revenged on the Normans.
Gurth (gewrt), Cedric’s swineherd and Ivanhoe’s loyal servant, who is given his freedom.
Wamba (VAHM-bah), Cedric’s quick-witted jester; he helps Cedric escape Torquilstone by dressing him in a priest’s robe.
Friar Tuck, Robin Hood’s hefty, hearty follower, a hedge priest who treats Richard to a meal.
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 Saxons, who have themselves suffered at the hands of the Normans, can deride the Jews with so little compunction, England has no claim to greatness. Scott depicts an English society riddled with irrational racial and religious hatred, weakened by an inability to solve its central moral issues. The true struggle faced by the English is, he says, not between Norman or Saxon, but good versus evil, toleration versus bigotry, and patriotism versus self-interest.
The characters of Ivanhoe and King Richard function as the leaders of this struggle for a good, tolerant, and patriotic England, bringing a message of conciliation and restoration to the country. Ivanhoe plays a significant role in the first third of the book, first as the Palmer who saves Isaac from Norman treachery, then disguised as the Disinherited Knight when he defeats the Norman knights at Ashby. Devoted to his God, his king, and all victims of unjust tyranny, Ivanhoe symbolically reconciles Norman knighthood with his Saxon heritage by marrying Rowena, descendant of the ancient Saxon princes.
King Richard is a more complex and contradictory character. He appears at Ashby in disguise and fights only when Ivanhoe is in danger. Later, he leads Robin Hood's band against Torquilstone, destroying the villainous Frontde- Boeuf and capturing the misguided De Bracy. Richard's mere presence in England sends his brother, the unscrupulous Prince John, into a fit of terror, ending his conspiracy against the throne. Richard reestablishes the natural order and reasserts the community's values, but he has no ultimate place in the restored community and soon leaves it to the hero, Ivanhoe. As an adventurer, Richard has a dangerous charisma. He enchants Ivanhoe, and for a time the young knight seems susceptible to his power. Ivanhoe's allegiance to Richard remains an essential part of the mystery of his own identity and inheritance.
Although both Richard and Ivanhoe lead the fight against tyrannical villains such as Prince John and Brian de Bois- Guilbert, their chivalric effort to bring order and honor to England ignores the tyranny of anti-Semitic oppression. The book ends with the exile of Rebecca and Isaac, who must find a more secure home than England. An early battle over intolerance has been won, but the realist in Scott recognizes that prejudice dies hard and leaves many victims.
The intelligent and articulate Rebecca, one of Scott's finest characters, frames the moral center of the novel. Although Rebecca remains a victim of bigotry, her moral superiority offers her a greater perspective on the human condition. Her debates with Ivanhoe on the virtues of chivalry express Scott's essential theme and the central conflict on the novel. Ivanhoe lamely defends the chivalric code he lives by, while Rebecca exposes it as a self-serving, superficial standard of behavior. Ivanhoe is seemingly the hero of the novel that bears his name, while the bland Rowena, Rebecca's Gentile counterpart, supposedly achieves heroine status by marrying her knight, Ivanhoe. The character of Rebecca breaks through this fairy-tale plot of chivalry to emerge as the true heroine of the novel. She represents the goodness, tolerance, and social commitment that English society lacks, but because she is an outspoken Jewish woman, English society despises her. Through Rebecca, Scott illustrates the pretensions and hypocrisies of the chivalric code, the tragic pathos of those it ignores, and the violence and chaos it cannot repress.
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 society). The interaction of all these personages is complex. While the novel has been degraded by a number of critics, it was enormously popular upon its initial publication and remains one of Scott's most widely read works. As usual, there is little analysis of the characters; instead, their actions and words reveal their natures. As a few scholars have noted, many important authors (Shakespeare is a good example) have employed violence and vigorous action to demonstrate the personalities of their characters.
One of the chief criteria of valid characterization is the clarity of motivation of each person in the plot. In Ivanhoe, the reader easily learns the reasons why the Normans and Saxons are at odds; thus, the urgings to action of all the key characters relate to this opposition, which is well represented by the tournament at Ashby. One sees also why Isaac is fearful of the Normans, why Rebecca falls in love with Wilfred, why Cedric dislikes the Normans, and even why the Normans behave so badly (their greed and excessive power, which they abuse, are evident from the start). The loyalty of even lowly characters like Gurth and Wamba is well-depicted as a lifelong tradition, one that has been passed on for generations. It is an insensitive or inattentive reader who does not feel that he or she "knows" the characters in this lively but serious novel.