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by Sir Walter Scott

Ivanhoe Questions

Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.

  1. In his "Dedicatory Epistle" to Ivanhoe, Scott claims that he's trying to capture the spirit rather than the historical reality of the 1190s. Ivanhoe is a mixture of realism (King Richard I and Prince John actually existed) and fantasy (Robin Hood, as we see him here at least, probably did not). How would Ivanhoe be different if it were a more strictly historical novel? What elements would Scott have to leave out? How would the tone and style of the book change? How would it impact your interest in the novel?
  2. Rowena seems less fully fleshed out as a character than Rebecca. Even though Rowena is Ivanhoe's love interest, the novel gives us little insight into her emotions or state of mind. Imagine you are an actress trying to perform the role of Rowena in a movie version of Ivanhoe. What aspects of her personality would you emphasize? How would you make Rowena more three-dimensional or developed as a character? What elements of her backstory would you need to know (or invent) to make her more accessible or understandable?
  3. In Isaac's "Character Analysis," we talk about the complicated nature of Scott's depiction of Jewish people. On the one hand, Ivanhoe clearly states that anti-Jewish prejudice is bad. On the other hand, it also perpetuates certain stereotypes about Jewish people in its characterization of Isaac and his friends. How do you think Ivanhoe's portrayal of Jewish people would be different if Scott were writing today? How would the events of Ivanhoe change if we saw them from Isaac's perspective? What kinds of issues might Isaac choose to emphasize? What might he ignore?
  4. There's a lot of pro-English patriotism among the major figures of this novel, but we also get a lot of insight into Norman character Brian de Bois-Guilbert. It seems like Scott is trying to present a balanced – or at least complex – view of the Saxon-vs.-Norman conflicts at the center of Ivanhoe. How might Ivanhoe be different if it were told entirely from Bois-Guilbert's point of view? How would the tone of the book change? Would the main themes of the book be different? What would be a happy ending from Bois-Guilbert's perspective? Would such an ending be satisfying or realistic to you?
  5. A lot of Ivanhoe is about national identity: what it means to be English. Is English identity Saxon, Norman, or a mixture of the two?
  6. Ivanhoe also brings in two international communities: Jews and the Knights Templar. These communities are very different from one another, but they share the fact that their members exceed the boundaries of what it means to be English. They speak multiple languages, not just Saxon or Norman and they have experience living in other countries. How do the worldviews of international characters like Rebecca or Bois-Guilbert differ from those of Rowena or Cedric? Why does Scott include so many international characters in his national drama? What do these international characters add to Ivanhoe, and how would the novel be different without them?

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