by Sir Walter Scott
Ivanhoe Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Chapter.Paragraph)
To these causes of public distress and apprehension must be added the multitude of outlaws who, driven to despair by the oppression of the feudal nobility and the severe exercise of the forest laws, banded together in large ganges, and, keeping possession of the forests and the wastes, set at defiance the justice and magistracy of the country. The nobles themselves, each fortified within his own castle, and playing the petty sovereign over his own dominions, were the leaders of bands scarce less lawless and oppressive than those of the avowed depredators. (7.3)
There is a weird contradiction in Ivanhoe. Scott often talks about the unfairness of the feudal system, in which a bunch of powerful lords oppress their servants and slaves. The outlaws of the forest are good guys who are trying to defy and undo this system. At the same time, Cedric, Ivanhoe, Athelstane all profit from this feudal system. They aren't powerful nobles like the Earl of Essex or the Earl of Warwick, but they are relatively powerful – Cedric has slaves (or "thralls"), and we see all of Athelstane's tenants attending his funeral at the Castle of Coningsburgh in Chapter 42. Aren't they also oppressing the ordinary folk? Ivanhoe certainly presents a romanticized vision of medieval society and class.
It was worth while to see the different conduct of the beauties who underwent this examination [to become the Queen of Beauty and of Love at the tournament at Ashby], during the time it was proceeding. Some blushed, some assumed an air of pride and dignity, some looked straight forward, and essayed to seem utterly unconscious of what was going on, some drew back in alarm, which was perhaps affected, some endeavoured to forbear smiling, and there were two or three who laughed outright. There were also some who dropped their veils over their charms; but, as the Wardour Manuscript says these were fair ones of ten years standing, it may be supposed that, having had their full share of such vanities, they were willing to withdraw their claim, in order to give a fair chance to the rising beauties of the age. (9.22)
This whole beauty pageant that Prince John has going at the tournament indicates something profound about the novel's attitude towards women. For a woman to be sympathetic and important, she also has to be beautiful. We only have three major female characters in this novel: Rebecca, Rowena, and Ulrica. Other women appear in the text merely as decorations or objects to be admired for their beauty. Rebecca has more dialogue than most, but would anyone listen to her tragic story or pity her unjust fate if she weren't also beautiful? Ulrica has a really terrible backstory, but the old family friend she tells it to, Cedric, can barely listen to her because she's not attractive to him. What do you think of the book's attitude towards women? How does the characterization of the female characters differ from that of the men?
"Knave!" said the Captain, getting up, "thou hast broken my head, and with other men of our sort thou wouldst fare the worse for thy insolence. But thou shalt know thy fate instantly. First let us speak of thy master; the knight's matters must go before the squire's, according to the due order of chivalry." (11.40-42)
The Captain, the man who leads this band of outlaws Gurth encounters in the forest, is Robin Hood. Like the Black Knight and the Disinherited Knight, it takes us quite a long time to learn his true identity. But even though he is a thief living in the woods, we can tell we're supposed to take him seriously because of the way he talks. He uses "thee," "thy," and "thou" like they're going out of style (which they have). These forms of "you" and "your" are highly formal – like "usted" in Spanish or "vous" in French. If an outlaw uses these expressions, instead of the gruff speech of ordinary folk like Gurth, you know he's no ordinary thief.