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Ivanhoe | Study Guide

Sir Walter Scott

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Ivanhoe | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In Ivanhoe how are Rowena and Rebecca similar and different?

In Ivanhoe both Rowena and Rebecca are beautiful, spirited women who have little power and very limited ability to proactively determine their futures. Rowena, a Christian and a Saxon noblewoman, is largely defined by the relationships that male characters have to her. She is Cedric of Rotherwood's ward, Athelstane of Coningburgh's fiancée, Ivanhoe's love interest, and the besotted Maurice de Bracy's captive. While Rebecca is also a Saxon, she faces different and greater difficulties. As a Jewish woman, Rebecca cannot marry the man she loves, Ivanhoe, because he is Christian. She has to be constantly vigilant against real danger because of the medieval violence and bigotry toward Jewish people. Scott portrays Rebecca with much greater detail than Rowena, and, as a result, she emerges as the more interesting female character. However, no matter how kind, generous, religious, brave, intelligent, educated, wealthy, and skilled in medicine she is shown to be throughout the novel, Rebecca will never be fully accepted in England because of her heritage. Thus, readers may infer that Scott condemns anti-Semitism.

In Ivanhoe how does Athelstane of Coningsbugh demonstrate he might not be Cedric of Rotherwood's wisest choice for marriage to Rowena and for the restoration of Saxon rule to England?

In Ivanhoe Athelstane of Coningsburgh is the last legitimate heir of the Saxon royal line. Cedric of Rotherwood wants to unite the Saxons in order to depose Norman rule by marrying his ward, Rowena, to Athelstane. However, Athelstane does not always abide by Cedric's wishes. At a tournament at Ashby, Athelstane sides with the Normans against the disguised Ivanhoe and is unhorsed by the Black Knight (King Richard). Athelstane fares no better as a fighter in Chapter 19 when he is taken prisoner. He is unable to draw his sword in the same time it takes the older Cedric to slay one opponent and take on another. In Chapter 21 Athelstane is more concerned about food and drink than contemplating Saxon history. In Chapter 31 he is knocked out by Sir Brian de Boise-Guilbert. Believed dead, he is placed on a bier, or frame, by the monks of the Church of Saint Edmund, who know he is alive but plan to bury him anyway in order to confiscate his land. In Chapter 42 Athelstane escapes from the monks and bursts into the banquet at Coningsburgh Castle, and angers Cedric by immediately swearing his loyalty to King Richard. Utlimately, Athelstane doesn't want to be a Saxon king. He'd rather settle down as a landowner. Cedric finally realizes that the new England must unify Saxons and Normans and sets aside his dream of a Saxon rally.

In Chapter 34 of Ivanhoe, how does the epigraph at the opening of the chapter from Shakespeare's play King John relate to the characters and events in that chapter?

In Chapter 34 the epigraph from Shakespeare's play King John depicts King John asking his faithful supporter Hubert to remove a "serpent," an impediment in the form of a legitimate heir to the throne, who is in his path to full control and power. Similarly, in Ivanhoe when Prince John learns that King Richard is back in England, he sees him as an obstacle to his own claim on the English throne. Prince John asks his supporter Maurice de Bracy to remove King Richard as an impediment to his control and power. Like Shakespeare's Hubert, however, Scott's de Bracy supports whichever monarch is achieving the most power at the moment. Also in parallel, in Shakespeare's King John the title character historically was King Richard's brother. It was King Richard's son, Arthur, who was legally next in line to the throne. In addition much like King John in Shakespeare's play, Prince John in Ivanhoe alienates and loses supporters because of his unfair plundering of the English. Hubert's inability in Shakespeare's play to assassinate the "serpent" foreshadows the failed assassination of King Richard.

In Chapter 36 of Ivanhoe, what are Albert de Malvoisin's motives as the Templar preceptor when he tries to appease both Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert and Lucas de Beaumanoir?

In Ivanhoe as a preceptor Albert de Malvoisin is a teacher responsible for upholding both Church and military laws and traditions at the preceptory, the headquarters of monastic knights. The preceptory's focus was to have been its church. However, the Templars earned vast power and wealth, and, as a result, Malvoisin developed a greed for power. He advises his friend Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert not to risk his life for Rebecca because "Women are but the toy to amuse our lighter hours; ambition is the serious business of life." Malvoisin's own ambition forces him to walk a tightrope. He is responsible directly to the grand master, Lucas de Beaumanoir, and so follows his order to prepare the castle hall for Rebecca's trial, thus safeguarding his current position. However, he thinks Sir Brian will become the grand master one day and wants to protect his friend in order to secure his own future. He tries to work out a compromise, suggesting Sir Brian renounce Rebecca, which sacrifices her, but keeps Sir Brian safe.

In Chapter 37 of Ivanhoe, how does Scott's quotation in the epigraph relate to the medieval justice depicted in this chapter?

In Chapter 37 of Ivanhoe, Scott's epigraph addresses the sternness of different types of laws, noting, "But sterner still, when high the iron rod/Of tyrant power she shook, and call'd that power of God." These lines suggest that tyrants impose the cruelest laws and try to justify their tyranny by claiming they are acting in the name of God. Scott authored this epigraph himself as a comment on justice during medieval times, which often was an arbitrary use of power and control. The epigraph relates directly to the events as Lucas de Beaumanoir conducts a sham trial of Rebecca for being a "Jewish Sorceress." However, in reality Beaumanoir is concerned about covering up Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert's abduction of Rebecca by executing her. His only interest is the Templar order's power and reputation, not God. Thus, as the head of monastic knights, Beaumanoir displays neither the values of a Christian nor the values of chivalry. Instead, he has become a tyrant whose hypocrisy has infected the entire wealthy and powerful Templar order that he rules.

In Ivanhoe how does Scott use characters' names to reveal traits?

In Ivanhoe some of Scott's character names are puns meant to convey the essence of what they represent. Some of the names Scott chooses are plays on Norman words such as the last name of the brothers Albert and Philip, whose name, Malvoisin, literally means "bad neighbor" in French. Reginald Front-de-Boeuf's name means "Ox Face," and his shield has an ox's face on it, revealing that at heart, he is a big bully. Lucas de Beaumanoir's last name translates as "beautiful manor," reflecting the wealth of the preceptory of the Knights Templar. These names sound believably French, but they also have double meanings to entertain Ivanhoe's readers. Some of his names are intentionally ethnic. Isaac of York and Rebecca are both familiar Old Testament Jewish names. Rowena is a Saxon name that means "famous friend." However, names of historic characters, such as King Richard (Black Knight) and Prince John, are factually accurate.

In Chapter 41 of Ivanhoe, for what purposes does the narrator reveal some of the less desirable aspects of King Richard's character?

In Ivanhoe the character Ivanhoe reflects that King Richard often places himself in dangers that could have been avoided because Richard becomes "swept up with the wild spirit of chivalry." The narrator states that "novelty" and "adventure were the zest of life to Richard," who seeks dangers to conquer. The narrator even describes the king as having a "brilliant, but useless, character of a knight of romance." In this way Scott reveals that Richard, while a daring "Black Knight," is not a perfect ruler and, in fact, has contributed to Prince John's rise by having decided to leave England for a Crusade. The narrator observes that Richard has a reckless side and that the details of governing a country are not of much interest to the king. He notes, "In the lion-hearted king ... the personal glory which he acquired by his own deeds of arms was far more dear to his excited imagination than that which a course of policy and wisdom would have spread around his government." Thus, Richard's feats provide material for bards and minstrels (poets and songwriters), but not solid benefits to England. By offering this critique, Scott presents King Richard as more than a fantasy hero, but as a realistic man with faults.

In Ivanhoe how does Scott use the character of Prior Aymer to criticize some practices of the medieval clergy?

In Ivanhoe Prior Aymer holds a superior position in the Church, second only to an abbot. Yet, as the leader of the monks, he is not a man of faith. He is depicted as indulging in sensual pleasures excessively, including eating and drinking too much. He likes fine clothes and the company of local ladies. When Prior Aymer is captured by the Sherwood outlaws in Chapter 34, he sneers at Isaac of York as a Jewish man until Locksley tells him to stop insulting Isaac. The prior agrees to help rescue the kidnapped Rebecca only after he is offered a fee. Thus, Scott shows Prior Aymer as practicing vices, not virtues, using the office of the Church to make money for himself. His job as a prior is essentially a disguise for his greed and immorality. This portrayal is a scorching condemnation of corruption in the medieval Church.

In Ivanhoe what is Scott's purpose in using epigraphs?

In Ivanhoe each chapter is introduced by an epigraph, a short quotation that suggests the theme, topic, or events of the chapter. Many of the excerpts come from the works of other great poets and dramatists who were well known to Scott's audience, such as Homer, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Pope. Scott also quotes less well-known or anonymous authors. Other times Scott himself is the author of the epigraph. In each case Scott provides dramatic clues to the purpose of each chapter in his novel. For example in Chapter 3 Scott quotes from James Thomson's 18th-century poem Liberty, "And yellow-hair'd, the blue-eyed Saxon came." This epigraph lets readers know that Ivanhoe is about to be introduced, even though Ivanhoe is disguised in the chapter. In some instances Scott appears to give his own opinion on the theme, topic, or events that the epigraph alludes to. For example in Chapter 5 Scott's epigraph is from a scene in William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice, in which the character Shylock asks why Jews are treated differently from Christians, which signals that Scott will address anti-Semitism.

In Chapter 44 of Ivanhoe, why does Rebecca leave England?

In Ivanhoe Rebecca realizes that despite having the protection of King Richard, she and her father are not safe in England as Jewish people. She knows that King Richard leaves England for years at a time to pursue adventure rather than govern England. His absence opens opportunities for despots to rise when he is not there. Though Rowena urges Rebecca to stay in England and change her religion, Rebecca knows that her entire identity would be dispossessed if she were to reject her religion. To stay under Rowena's worldview, Rebecca would have to abandon her heritage, her faith, her father, and her medical skills. Instead, Rebecca chooses to go to Spain with her father where Jewish people are not treated violently. Rebecca decides to devote herself to healing and medicine in Spain after seeing the cruel hypocrisy of the Templars—a Christian and military organization ready to murder her for being Jewish. Never about money, Rebecca tells Rowena, "Think ye that I prize these sparkling fragments of stone above my liberty? or that my father values them in comparison to the honour of his only child?"

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