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Ivanhoe Themes

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

While the political system of feudalism surrounds the action and informs much of it, the essential "message" of the novel could be interpreted as largely an indictment of that way of life. Possibly the most significant example of this criticism is the matter of the actions of King Richard (who has been often lauded as one of England's most heroic and popular kings), which come under severe aspersion. Even Ivanhoe, who is no model of cautious, prudent behavior, stands shocked by the actions of his king: "Your kingdom is threatened with dissolution and civil war—your subjects menaced with every species of evil—why, oh why, noble Prince, will you thus vex the hearts of your faithful servants, and expose your life by lonely journeys and rash adventures."

In this critique of the king's rashness, one sees Scott's awareness of the perils of irresponsible behavior, especially by those who bear heavy duties—in this case to a nation and its people. So the chivalrk ideal can be noted as severely flawed, even though many of the most admirable characters in the text adhere to it; this adherence, as shown by Scott, was, for the author, something of a historical necessity, given the era in which the novel is set.

On the other hand, some features of the code find positive expression in the novel. Apart from the usually honorable actions of many of the characters, the leading Normans excepted (they are portrayed as little better than what today would be considered gangsters), two genuinely outstanding examples of the benevolent aspects of feudalism are the servants of Cedric, Gurth and Wamba. While these rustics are humble and sometimes (especially in Wamba's case) erratic, their loyalty to their master, and their bravery and (in Wamba's case) wit in aiding him are admirable. Cedric's gratitude for...

(The entire section is 462 words.)