Ivanhoe | Study Guide

Sir Walter Scott

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Ivanhoe | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In Chapter 1 of Ivanhoe, how do the two different languages illustrate the animosity between the Normans and the Saxons?

In Chapter 1 the author begins by describing the conquest of the Duke of Normandy when most Anglo-Saxon nobles lost their land. He explains that Norman royalty wanted to weaken Anglo-Saxon culture in order to diminish the defeated population even further. Key to this objective was degrading the Anglo-Saxon language in favor of the Norman-French language, "the language of honour, chivalry, and even of justice, while the far more manly and expressive Anglo-Saxon was abandoned to the use of rustics and hinds, who knew no other." Even four generations after defeat, Anglo-Saxons had not united with the Normans in sharing a common language. Instead, their different languages continued to be a wedge, representing the hostilities that still existed between the Normans and the Saxons. Scott demonstrates this hostility with a conversation between Gurth, the swineherd, and Wamba, the jester. Both are in the employ of Cedric of Rotherwood, a Saxon noble. Gurth is complaining in Anglo-Saxon about rounding up his swine, which encourages Wamba to launch a series of pointed and language-based jokes at the expense of the Normans, whom they both dislike. Gurth adds his own observation that the Normans think they're entitled to the best of everything.

In Chapter 2 of Ivanhoe, how does Scott show that each of the three religious characters is not true to his role in life?

In Chapter 2 Scott introduces a Templar, Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, a holy knight who in reality is a brutal man with a scarred face and a quick temper. He reveals Prior Aymer, who is supposed to live a simple life and abstain from pleasure and material things, as someone who loves wine, feasting, fine cloth, and gambling. He presents Ivanhoe in disguise as a palmer, a pilgrim to the Holy Land, when he is actually the son of Cedric of Rotherwood, a Saxon noble, and hence well knows the safest way to Cedric's manor. Thus, none of these characters truly embodies the religious role they claim.

In Chapter 3 of Ivanhoe, how does Scott's depiction of Cedric of Rotherwood represent the conflict between Saxons and Normans in the 12th century?

In Chapter 3 Cedric of Rotherwood is depicted as a powerful nobleman who is intensely proud of his Saxon heritage. He wants more power, however, by having a Saxon king rule England and holds an extreme dislike of the Normans' rule and culture. In expressing his sense of dispossession, he even refers to William the Conqueror—the Norman duke who led the conquest of England in 1066—as "William the Bastard." Cedric's first commitment is to his people and their future, which he believes lies in the resurgence of Saxon rule. While Cedric's behavior is crude by Norman standards, he is capable of generosity, such as agreeing to feed and lodge three strangers who arrive at his house, despite their loyalty to the Normans—Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, Prior Aymer, and the palmer (his disguised son, Ivanhoe).

In Chapter 4 of Ivanhoe, why is it significant that Cedric of Rotherwood speaks Anglo-Saxon when he welcomes his guests to Rotherwood Hall?

In Chapter 4 Cedric of Rotherwood greets his guests, Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, Prior Aymer, and the palmer (his disguised son, Ivanhoe), in Anglo-Saxon, even though the newcomers are loyal to the Normans. Cedric knows that with Norman rule, French is now the language of nobles, while Anglo-Saxon is used predominately among rustic people. However, Cedric asserts his authority in his household by speaking the language of his heritage rather than following what Norman culture dictates for a nobleman. Because Cedric deeply dislikes Norman rule, he refuses to speak their language, defiantly using their difference in languages to distance himself as a Saxon from the Normans.

In Chapters 1 through 4 of Ivanhoe, what is the function of the characters Wamba and Gurth?

In Chapters 1 through 4 Wamba, the jester, and Gurth, the pig-keeper, show a slice of life in the Middle Ages for those who were low in social class. Despite their lowly status, they are acutely aware of the cultural upheaval in their country because it affects them. They discuss the Saxon king's captivity and the power of Norman rule over the Saxons. Both characters also are discerning about the division of language, in which the Norman language is now considered refined compared to the language of the Saxons. Plain spoken and astute, they are loyal to and protective of Cedric, misdirecting the Norman strangers searching for Cedric's manor. Like their Saxon lord, they resent what they perceive as the Normans' arrogance. As a jester, Wamba is able to make snide comments about Normans to their face, such as in the forest to Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert and Prior Aymer. Thus, both characters mirror the difficulty of all Saxon hierarchies that have not fully accepted Norman rule.

In Chapters 5 and 6 of Ivanhoe, how does the palmer's treatment of Isaac of York differ from how others treat Isaac, and how does this difference create situational irony?

In Chapters 5 and 6 Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert and Prior Aymer are angered that Cedric of Rotherwood allows Isaac of York to join them for food and lodging at Cedric's house. They are prejudiced against Jewish people and treat Isaac rudely, not allowing room for him to sit at their table to eat. Brian is even overheard planning to have Isaac kidnapped the next morning. In contrast Ivanhoe, still disguised as a palmer, gives up his own seat, brings Isaac food, and warns him that he is in danger. While Ivanhoe seems to dislike some of the practices Isaac engages in, such as pretending to be poor, he escorts Isaac to safety in Sheffield. Ivanhoe's lack of prejudice and his compassion create situational irony because both Brian and the prior are "holy men," yet they reveal their bigotry and hatred for an entire group of people, creating a contrast between expectation and reality.

In Chapter 5 of Ivanhoe, what is the significance of Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert's boast about the superior fighting skills of the Knights of the Temple over the English knights?

In Chapter 5 when Rowena asks about the gallantry of the English soldiers in the Holy Land, Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert replies they are second to the Knights of the Temple, the order he belongs to. However, the palmer (Ivanhoe in disguise) interrupts Brian's boast, saying that the English knights were "second to NONE." As evidence, Ivanhoe points out that he witnessed a tournament in which King Richard and five English knights defeated seven Knights of the Temple, including Sir Brian. Angered, Brian concedes that Ivanhoe defeated him, but only because Brian's horse faltered, and then impetuously issues a challenge to Ivanhoe. This dialogue reveals Brian's hotheadedness, pride, ambition, and his personal rivalry with Ivanhoe. It also foreshadows an upcoming battle between Brian, a Norman who supports Prince John, and Ivanhoe, a Saxon who supports King Richard.

In Chapter 8 of Ivanhoe, what is Scott's purpose in describing the tournament, and how does this description affect his writing style?

Just as Prince John holds the tournament to excite people with the pageantry and thrill of combat, Scott uses it to introduce adventure for readers. Scott's prose is very realistic as he relates in thorough detail "the splendid spectacle" of the dress, manners, and appearance of each group in the social and political hierarchy. Scott convincingly describes a Middle-Age arena, horses, the sense of crowd anticipation, complexity of the tournament rules, heraldry, shields, suits of armor, and sounds of clarions, trumpets, shouts, applause, and laments. The action scenes create a visual picture of vibrant feats, such as "the champions vanished from their posts with the speed of lightning, and closed in the centre of the lists with the shock of a thunderbolt." The results of Scott's writing style is to transport readers back hundreds of years to the flourishes of a tournament.

In Chapter 11 of Ivanhoe, how are the men who attack Gurth to rob him of his gold coins introduced as being different from most groups of thieves?

In Chapter 11 the men who seize Gurth are no ordinary thieves. The robbers learn that Gurth is a Saxon and his master is the "The Disinherited Knight" (Ivanhoe). After Gurth shows his mastery with a sword, they decide to let him go. They identify with his master because they, too, have been disinherited as Saxons under Norman rule. They also admire that Gurth's master "win[s] his substance at sword's point," as they do. They appreciate that Gurth's master beat the Norman knights at that day's tournament, especially Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert, one of their own enemies. Because Gurth and his master are so similar to these men—including their mutual desire to keep their identities secret—they let Gurth keep his master's gold. Two of them then walk him to the edge of his master's pavilion to ensure his safety. Thus, their robbery is in protest of the Norman rule, and the robbers have their own code of honor.

In Chapter 12 of Ivanhoe, how are the situations of Ivanhoe and King Richard parallel?

In Chapter 12 two knights appear at the tournament in disguise to hide their presence in England—Ivanhoe as the Disinherited Knight and King Richard as the mysterious Black Knight. Both Ivanhoe and King Richard have returned to England to right wrongs and redress grievances. King Richard wants to reclaim his throne and repair the mess that his brother, Prince John, has made of the kingdom. Ivanhoe wants to reconcile with his father, help restore King Richard to the throne, and claim the hand of Rowena. Both knights have been "dispossessed," King Richard by his brother, who is plotting to become king, and Ivanhoe, disinherited by his father. On the second day of the tournament, when King Richard rides to Ivanhoe's rescue, his actions parallel Ivanhoe's defense of King Richard at the Holy Land and foreshadows the possibility of reconciliation for a unified kingdom. The tournament represents the conflicts between the Saxons and the Normans that must be resolved in order to reconcile their differences—the hopelessness of the Saxon cause versus the Norman need to eliminate the violence that arises from injustice and to establish true chivalry.

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