Ivanhoe is set in approximately twelfth century England during the time of feudal Europe, the crusades, Richard the Lion Hearted, and Robin Hood. Chivalry is still a major force in England, as is Christianity. The story refers more exactly to a period towards the end of the reign of Richard I, when his return from his long captivity was yearned for by his subjects, being under of his brother, Prince John, who was incompetent as a monarch and corrupt, unfairly taxing the citizens.
The condition of the English nation was at this time sufficiently miserable. King Richard captivity in the clutches of the cruel and perfidious Duke of Austria was being prolonged as requested by Prince John, who was quite enjoying his power. The nobles were also taking advantage of their power during the king’s absence with their tyranny, causing much suffering among the inferior classes.
Also, Ivanhoe may take place soon after the Conquest by Duke William of Normandy in 1066, because the Normans and the Anglo-Saxons are still somewhat hostile towards each other during the course of the adventure, and Scott reveals the hatred and malice that Saxons felt towards Normans. They still speak different languages, still another barrier between the two races. Only educated could understand both the Norman French and the Anglo-Saxon, although even they would pretend not to understand each other, refusing to speak in their enemies tongue.
Throughout the novel, nobility gives the Normans, because the Normans were the victors in the Battle of Hastings. The Normans had the power, so everything affiliated with Saxons was considered inferior. The audience was shocked when a Saxon won the tournament at Ashby and still more astonished when the Queen of Love and Beauty chosen was a Saxon woman.
Indeed, the main character, Ivanhoe, was disinherited by his father for wanting to serve a Norman king. In addition, the absolute persecution of the Jews is lucid during this time period. They are mercilessly mistreated and abused and not even considered human. All the men who gaze upon the stunningly beautiful Rebecca look away ashamed to have noticed a Jewish girl. Even the slaves of servants gaze condescendingly upon the Jews. They were given less respect than animals.
Before encountering this novel, I knew little about this time period. I knew about the legends of Robin Hood of course, whom Ivanhoe later encounters in the novel and by whom Ivanhoe is assisted, and I knew from popular stories that Richard the Lion-Hearted was a good king, while his brother who ruled in his absence was corrupt. I knew a little about the crusades of twelfth century Europe, but Sir Walter Scott truly brought to life the honor and splendour that accompanied knighthood, the chivalry, the traditions of that time, and the injustices through his very realistic and developed characters. He was able to convey the magnitude of honor carried in wining a tournament and revealed the fact that although there were many honest and gallant knights, there were also those who did not exactly fit a chivalrous description.
Knowledge of this era, and in fact, experiencing religious persecution through the eyes of the Jewish character, Isaac, opens the reader’s eyes as the persecution dealing with sexual orientation today. In neither case is the minority being taken to an extreme similar to the Holocaust, yet, life is very difficult in both situations; services are denied, they are regarded as inferior, they are disrespected, and often believed to be evil, diabolical, or affiliated with the devil. Persecution is still rampant and alive in the world today.
Scott’s principal concern in Ivanhoe is to show the noble idealism of chivalry along with its often cruel and impractical consequences. Ivanhoe brings to life 12th-century England, and was probably intended to represent the Norman-Saxon feud. It gives a broadly realistic picture of a period of historical change. Being such an accurate study of Medieval England, it seems as though Sir Walter Scott mainly intended his novel to be an exciting historical account of twelfth-century England glazed with rivalry and romance.
I learned a lot about the history of this thrilling era, and the splendour of knighthood and chivalry and the exhilaration of tournaments and fighting for one’s honor was truly conveyed in this novel. Having read this book would be useful in the future for the sake of history, and also because I really feel that my writing skills and reading comprehension have blossomed while reading this book. The writing is incredibly descriptive with complex vocabulary and expressive verb usage. I myself am trying to improve my application of verbs and reduce those of the form “to be,” so reading this book provided me with a perfect demonstration of vivid pictures created by expressive verb usage.
A good example of symbolism from Ivanhoe is the way in which Scott used his hero and his villain to represent the Norman-Saxon feud. The dark Brian de Bois-Guilbert, the main villain, is a Norman. The hero, Wilfred of Ivanhoe, is a Saxon. Ivanhoe versus Brian de Bois Guilbert, hero versus villain is a basic way of showing Norman versus Saxon. The two are also opposite in their characters. Brian de Bois Guilbert seems to represent revenge, grief, and hatred, while Ivanhoe is the perfect example of chivalry and valiancy.
Although Brian de Bois Guilbert is the villain of the story, he is not one whom I completely dislike, because though he is portrayed as evil, he still has good intentions. I dislike Prince John, because he is treacherous and perfidious and power-hungry and not at all interested in the good of his people. He would advocate the death of his own brother in order to fulfill his selfish desires. In addition, he is partial and prejudiced against Saxons and Jews, and not subtly either. During the tournament at Ashby, when Ivanhoe, a Saxon, was feigning off three men at the same time, and valiantly so, the crowd begged Prince John to throw down his lance, indicating the end of the tournament, but he preferred to see a Saxon lose.
At the celebration after the tournament, Prince John flaunted the victory of the Normans over the Saxons in the Battle of Hastings in retaliation to an insult. However, he purposely insulted his own guest and didn’t show him the courtesy common to any guest in the house of a prince. When Prince John sees Isaac the Jew, he has no problem with taking the money right out of his hands and pushing the poor old man so that he rolls down the stairs. Willing to bribe the nobles to side with him upon King Richard’s return, Prince John demonstrates utter corruption, avarice, and self-centeredness, oblivious to the idea that a monarch’s duty is to protect the people, not oppress them.
A character I like is of course, Ivanhoe. He is noble and honest and chivalrous as well as the perfect example of a knight. He was kind even to the Jews whom no one respected and he never took more than he needed. For example, after the tournament, his opponents came to give him the money and their horses as was custom for the loser, but he only accepted that which he needed.
Unlike most Saxons, who resented even King Richard’s rule because he was a Norman king, Ivanhoe was is noble in the sense that he respected the good King Richard and was willing to support him solely because Richard was a good king. I admire his values very much, however, I don’t think I could follow them as strictly as Ivanhoe does, because if someone were to offer money that I don’t need and that I rightfully won, I would definitely accept. I can only admire Ivanhoe’s reaction to such a situation, but I could never emulate the high standards of character he possesses.
“The towering flames had now surmounted every obstruction and rose to the evening skies one huge and burning beacon, seen far and wide through the adjacent country. Tower after tower crashed down, with blazing roof and rafter; and the combatants were driven from the courtyard. The vanquished, of whom very few remained, scattered and escaped into the neighboring wood. The victors, assembling in large bands, gazed with wonder, not unmixed with fear, upon the flames, in which their own ranks and arms glanced dusky red. The maniac figure of the Saxon Ulrica was for a long time visible on the lofty stand she had chosen, tossing her arms abroad with wild exultation, as if she reigned empress of the conflagration which she had raised. At length, with a terrific crash, the whole turret gave way, and she perished in the flames, which had consumed her tyrant. An awful pause of horror silenced each murmur of the armed spectators, who, for the space of several minutes, stirred not a finger, save to sign the cross. ”
I chose this scene in particular because of the marvelous descriptions and the way in which Scott paints the chaotic scene in one’s mind. This scene takes place at the climax of the novel and its atmosphere and tone creates a very intense mood for the reader. I could hear the cries of the people in the background and see the raving, insane Ulrica being consumed by the scorching fire. Sir Walter Scott’s writing has a great impact on me, his writing, bringing every event to life. In fact, he brought the entire era of twelfth-century Europe to life for me.