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Free Study Guide - Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

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Named Wilfred of Ivanhoe, he is disinherited by his father for loving Rowena and following the Norman King Richard to fight in the Crusades. Though the novel is named after him and he ultimately becomes a hero when he defends and saves Rebecca from death, he remains a somewhat vague character through much of the book. As the protagonist of the novel, he is largely symbolic of the new type of Saxon who can accept the Norman rule as long as it is just and merciful.

After he is disinherited, Ivanhoe takes on two disguises to accomplish his goals. First, he appears as the Palmer to reassure Rowena that Ivanhoe is still alive and on his way home to England; he also serves to defend Isaac the Jew when he is mistreated by the Normans and Saxons alike. Ivanhoe then disguises himself as the Disinherited Knight and participates in the Ashby Tournament, where he fights bravely and honorably, defeating all of the other knights. When he is wounded in the fighting, he is nursed back to health by Rebecca.

Ivanhoe is constant in his love for Rowena. In spite of being disinherited for his love, he refuses to change his plans to marry the noble and beautiful woman. In the end, he wins her hand in marriage. Ivanhoe is also constant in his support of Isaac and Rebecca. He openly comes to Isaac’s defense when he is mistreated at the banquet and fights for Rebecca and wins her freedom before she is accused as a witch and burned at the stake.

Scott’s enormous knowledge of history and chivalry go into the characterization of Ivanhoe, who becomes the symbol of an ideal, gentle, and perfect knight. His constancy, honor, bravery, kindness, and nobility make him a worthy protagonist. The reader is pleased that the novel ends in comedy for this hero.


Cedric’s main ambition is to see a Saxon back on the throne of England and puts all his energy into this goal. When his son Ivanhoe displeases him by falling in love with his ward Rowena and by supporting the Norman King Richard, Cedric disinherits him. Cedric is so involved in executing his own desires and wishes that he is often oblivious to others. He chooses Athelstane as the logical successor to the crown, even though he is ineffectual and lazy. He also plans to marry his ward Rowena to Athelstane, for he sees it as politically advantageous; he is not at all concerned that Rowena might love Ivanhoe, as he loves her.

When Ivanhoe returns in disguise, first as the Palmer and then as the Disinherited Knight, Cedric does not recognize or acknowledge his son. When his identity is revealed, Cedric never openly expresses regret or concern that he has disinherited Ivanhoe for no other reason than that his son has threatened his ability to restore a Saxon to the throne. When Ivanhoe emerges as victor in the games at Ashby and raises his visor to crown Rowena Queen of the Tournament, Cedric recognizes him; out of pride, however, he refuses to acknowledge him.

Cedric’s pride is his worst quality. Saxon pride compels him to find some kind of answer to the Norman conquest of the country he loves. In this quest, he virtually forgets his own son and everyone around him. Though in reality he has a kind heart, Cedric is single-mindedly focused on his goal of raising a Saxon line to the throne. He will not tolerate anyone, even his son, standing in his way. Though he hates the Normans, when he hosts them in his home, his pride makes him offer them his finest foods and wines. Although he constantly calls for Saxon strength as an answer to the Norman rule of England, when the Saxon resistance needs a leader, he declines. He is so proud and so stubborn, it is hard for him to see that even he contributes to the poor leadership skills of the Saxons, a fact which inevitably bears on the fact that they continued to be ruled by the Normans

Cedric is not a totally static character. He undergoes a gradual transformation, as seen when he drinks a toast to Richard’s health. He realizes that just as there are many kinds of leaders, there are many kinds of Normans. He decides to treat each person on an individual basis, and in the end pledges his loyalty to Richard, who has proved himself a triumphant and effective king and a merciful leader. Most importantly, Cedric reconciles with his son in the end and blesses his marriage to Rowena.


As Cedric’s ward, Rowena is at his mercy in matters of marriage. Though Cedric wants her to marry Athelstane and though she is sought by De Bracy, she stands firm in her love for Ivanhoe. Rowena is beautiful both physically and morally; she is depicted as a truly noble heroine in all ways. She is as chaste and merciful. Though De Bracy has attempted to molest her, she resists his advances and says she will die before she succumbs to him. She then forgives him in a true Christian spirit. Although she realizes that Rebecca is also in love with Ivanhoe, she kindly and discreetly protects the other girl’s feelings, expressing her graciousness when the two meet at the end of the novel. She is always patient with Cedric, never disrespectful, even when he tries to make her marry Athelstane. She understands his ambition but is not willing to sacrifice herself to fulfill it. In all ways, Rowena seems to be the perfect match for the noble Ivanhoe.


A lovely young Jewess, Rebecca is as indifferent to money as her father is attracted to it. She returns the money Ivanhoe pays for the use of a horse and armor and even adds a generous tip for Gurth. Rebecca is so beautiful that she attracts all the men who see her; even the faithful Ivanhoe recognizes her charm. So does the Templar Knight, Bois-Guilbert, who takes Rebecca prisoner and harbors wicked desires to defile her. Rebecca, however, stands firm against him and is even willing to face death rather than succumb to his advances. Her firmness of resolve only strengthens Bois-Guilbert’s admiration for her.

Rebecca is known for her healing powers. When Ivanhoe is wounded, she volunteers to care for him and nurse him back to health. In the process, she realizes that she loves this noble man, but accepts that since she is a Jew, her love will not be satisfied. Ivanhoe, however, greatly respects Rebecca and comes to her aid at the end of the novel. When she is accused of witchcraft and is ready to be burned at the stake, Ivanhoe fights for her, defeats Bois-Gilbert, and wins Rebecca’s freedom. Rebecca expresses her gratitude by calling upon Rowena; she is afraid of facing Ivanhoe and displaying her true emotions.

Isaac the Jew

Isaac is Rebecca’s father and a wealthy moneylender. In the portrait of him, there are strong resemblances to Shakespeare’s character of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Both of them love money and resist parting from it. Ironically, they both loan money to people who instinctively hate them, but they both become more wealthy because of it. It is only Isaac’s love for his daughter Rebecca that would cause him to part with his money. When he thinks he has lost Rebecca, he is a broken man and offers all his wealth to whomever can rescue her.

Isaac is hated for being both a Jew and a moneylender. During the Middle Ages, there is a strong prejudice against all Jewish people. The Jewish moneylenders are especially hated, for they are the only people who can charge interest on loans, for Christians are prohibited from it. Isaac, like most of the Jewish moneylenders, has considerable business acumen and holds power over those he lends money to, including some of the important Norman knights. As a result, he is hated and ostracized.

Isaac can be grateful. When Ivanhoe, disguised as the Palmer, tells the Jew about the plot against him, he repays the Palmer’s kindness by arranging the loan of a horse and armor to use during the tournament. This trait, along with his love for Rebecca and his cruel treatment at the hands of Saxons and Normans alike, make Isaac a sympathetic character.


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