Study Guide

Ivanhoe Identity

By Sir Walter Scott

Identity

Oswald, the cupbearer, modestly suggested, "That it was scarce an hour since the tolling of the curfew" – an ill-chosen apology, since it turned upon a topic so harsh to Saxon ears.

"The foul fiend," exclaimed Cedric, "take the curfew-bell, and the tyrannical bastard by whom it was devised, and the heartless slave who names it with a Saxon tongue to a Saxon ear! The curfew! he added, pausing, "ay, the curfew; which compels true men to extinguish their lights, that thieves and robbers may work their deeds in darkness! – Ay, the curfew; – Reginald Front-de-Boeuf and Philip de Malvoisin know the use of the curfew as well as William the Bastard himself, or e'er a Norman adventurer that fought at Hastings." (3.13-14)

This explosion of bad temper from Cedric perfectly illustrates his identity. Above all, Cedric is a Saxon – not a Norman. Here he is irritated that both Gurth and Rowena are holding up his evening meal. One of his servants reminds him that it's only just past curfew, and Cedric explodes: it's all the tyrannical Normans' fault! They're the ones who started the curfew in the first place so they could rob innocent Saxons! Even something as ordinary as a delayed dinner reminds Cedric that the Normans are jerks. Cedric's readiness to jump to conclusions about Norman evil calls into question how realistic or objective his anti-Norman position is.

"Good Father Aymer," said the Saxon, "be it known to you, I care not for those over-sea refinements, without which I can well enough take my pleasure in the woods. I can wind my horn, though I call not the blast either a recheat or a mort; I can cheer my dogs on the prey, and I can flay and quarter the animal when it is brought down, without using the new-fangled jargon of curée, arbor, nombles, and all the babble of the fabulous Sir Tristrem."

"The French, said the Templar, raising his voice with the presumptuous and authoritative tone which he used upon all occasions, "is not only the natural language of the chase, but that of love and of war, in which ladies should be won and enemies defied." (5.19-20)

Language is a major part of a person's identity. This language difference matters particularly to Cedric, since he associates Norman French with "over-sea refinements" and elaborate, newfangled ways. Saxon, on the other hand, is the language of time-honored tradition. For Bois-Guilbert, French is the best language for "love and [for] war." Saxon has no importance for him at all – he refuses to learn or to speak it, even when he is a guest at Cedric's hall at Rotherwood.

Of course, this whole squabble seems irrelevant in the 21st century. The language you're reading now is a true mixture of both Norman French and Anglo-Saxon Old English. Modern English contains both, without any cultural distinction between the two. Cedric and Bois-Guilbert's pride appears pointless now, which may be part of Scott's point.

Whether from love of form or from curiosity, the marshals paid no attention to his expressions of reluctance, but unhelmed him by cutting the laces of his casque, and undoing the fastening of his gorget. When the helmet was removed, the well-formed yet sun-burnt features of a young man of twenty-five were seen, amidst a profusion of short fair hair. His countenance was as pale as death, and marked in one or two places with streaks of blood. (12.42)

At last, a quarter of the way through the novel that bears his name, we finally see Ivanhoe unmasked. This book has a ton of people in disguise: first Ivanhoe, as the Pilgrim or the Disinherited Knight, then King Richard, as the Black Sluggard or the Knight of the Fetterlock, and then Robin Hood, as the Captain of the outlaws or Robert Locksley. Why do you think Ivanhoe makes so much use of hidden or mistaken identities? Did you catch on to any (or all) of these characters' true identities before their big reveals?

"There is none," replied [the Friar], "from the scissors of Delilah, and the tenpenny nail of Jael, to the scimitar of Goliath, at which I am not a match for thee – But, if I am to make the election, what sayst thou, good friend, to these trinkets?" (16.62)

We've noticed that there are a handful of characters who tend to swear all the time (not cursing, but swearing on something, like when people say, "I swear on my grandma's grave…") all the time. The Friar is one: he's constantly swearing oaths to various Biblical figures, as in this passage. Gurth also likes to swear to different Saxon saints, including Saint Withold and Saint Dunstan. Norman Maurice de Bracy can barely speak a single line without mentioning a different Catholic saint. Similarly, Isaac of York frequently calls out to the great Jewish patriarchs Abraham and Jacob, and King David.

These references become a way of identifying the social position of each of these men. Gurth and the Friar are both Saxons, so they swear to Saxon saints. They're also on the lower end of the social scale, so they tend to swear more often than higher-class characters. De Bracy is frequently criticized by his fellow Templars for his superstitious faith in the saints. He's less stern and tough than Bois-Guilbert or Beaumanoir, and his manner of speaking proves it. And Isaac's frequent oaths remind the characters of his Jewish faith, since he swears to Abraham rather than to a Christian saint. Oaths become another tool for characterization.

(For more on Delilah and Jael, check out our list of "Allusions: Biblical, Legendary, and Mythological References.")

And thus it is probable, that the Jews, by the very frequency of their fear on all occasions, had their minds in some degree prepared for every effort of tyranny which could be practised upon them; so that no aggression, when it had taken place, could bring with it that surprise which is the most disabling quality of terror. Neither was it the first time that Isaac had been placed in circumstances so dangerous. He had therefore experience to guide him, as well as hope, that he might again, as formerly, be delivered as a prey from the fowler. Above all, he had upon his side the unyielding obstinacy of his nation, and that unbending resolution, with which Israelites have been frequently known to submit to the uttermost evils which power and violence can inflict upon them, rather than gratify their oppressors by granting their demands. (22.3)

As Isaac is waiting to be threatened and tortured by Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, he seems calm and resigned to his fate. Scott claims that because Jewish people were so regularly abused during the Middle Ages, threats of torture didn't affect them as strongly as they might other people. What he's describing here is a kind of passive resistance to prejudice. None of the Jewish characters in Ivanhoe ever take up weapons or attack their oppressors, but neither do they simply give in to their demands. Instead, Rebecca and her father both do their best to maintain their pride amid all this abuse. What are the advantages of passive resistance to prejudice and racism? What are of the disadvantages?

"What wouldst thou have of me," said Rebecca, "if not my wealth? – We can have nought in common between us – you are a Christian – I am a Jewess. – Our union were contrary to the laws, alike of the church and the synagogue."

"It were so, indeed," replied the Templar, laughing; "wed with a Jewess? Despardieux! – Not if she were the Queen of Sheba! And know, besides, sweet daughter of Zion, that were the most Christian king to offer me his most Christian daughter, with Languedoc for a dowery, I could not wed her. It is against my vow to love any maiden, otherwise than par amours, as I will love thee. I am a Templar. Behold the cross of my Holy Order." (24.29-30)

Obviously Rebecca doesn't want to marry Bois-Guilbert – her heart belongs to Ivanhoe. But she voices her lack of interest in Bois-Guilbert as a problem of religion: neither Bois-Guilbert's Christian church nor Rebecca's Jewish synagogue would allow an interfaith marriage. Rebecca makes it sound like the two of them are different speciesshe claims they "can have nought in common between" them. Clearly, attitudes towards interfaith marriages have changed for the better since the 1190s – and even since the 1810s, when Scott was writing.

The remaining and lower part of the hall was filled with guards, holding partisans, and with other attendants whom curiosity had drawn thither, to see at once a Grand Master and a Jewish sorceress. By far the greater part of those inferior persons were, in one rank or other, connected with the Order, and were accordingly distinguished by their black dresses. But peasants from the neighbouring country were not refused admittance; for it was the pride of Beaumanoir to render the edifying spectacle of the justice which he administered as public as possible. His large blue eyes seemed to expand as he gazed around the assembly, and his countenance appeared elated by the conscious dignity, and imaginary merit, of the part which he was about to perform. A psalm, which he himself accompanied with a deep mellow voice, which age had not deprived of its powers, commenced the proceedings of the day; and the solemn sounds, Venite exultemus Domino, so often sung by the Templars before engaging with earthly adversaries, was judged by Lucas most appropriate to introduce the approaching triumph, for such he deemed it, over the powers of darkness. The deep prolonged notes, raised by a hundred masculine voices accustomed to combine in the choral chant, arose to the vaulted roof of the hall, and rolled on amongst its arches with the pleasing yet solemn sound of the rushing of mighty waters. (37.4)

What's really interesting about Lucas Beaumanoir is that, in spite of all of his grand talk about self-restraint and getting back to the basics of the Templar movement, he loves putting on a show. He has a huge flair for the dramatic. Here we see that he sets up Rebecca's trial with an eye to what will most impress the peasants: chanting knights, solemn rituals, and imposing mannerisms. Beaumanoir believes he is restoring the Templar movement to its original, moral ways, but his pride in the glory of the Knights Templar also seems to break Christian rules of humility and self-effacement.

"Thou canst not fly," said the Preceptor [Albert Malvoisin]; "thy ravings have excited suspicion, and thou wilt not be permitted to leave the Preceptory. Go and make the essay – present thyself before the gate, and command the bridge to be lowered, and mark what answer thou shalt receive. – Thou are surprised and offended; but is it not the better for thee? Wert thou to fly, what would ensue but the reversal of thy arms, the dishonour of thine ancestry, the degradation of thy rank? – Think on it. Where shall thine old companions in arms hide their heads when Brian de Bois-Guilbert, the best lance of the Templars, is proclaimed recreant, amid the hisses of the assembled people? What grief will be at the Court of France! With what joy will the haughty Richard hear the news, that the knight that set him hard in Palestine, and well-nigh darkened his renown, has lost fame and honour for a Jewish girl, whom he could not even save by so costly a sacrifice!" (39.60)

Bois-Guilbert is a bad guy, no doubt. Still, he's at his best when he decides to give up his Knight Templar pride to rescue Rebecca. For a brief time he seems willing to compromise his arrogance so they can escape together (though he is never quite willing to admit to Beaumanoir that he is the one who put Rebecca in this position in the first place).

Bois-Guilbert is at his worst here in Chapter 39, when Albert Malvoisin persuades him to represent the Knights Templar in Rebecca's trial by combat. Malvoisin appeals to Bois-Guilbert's pride in his reputation and family name. And it works, sort of: Bois-Guilbert actually decides to participate in a duel that, if he wins, will mean Rebecca's death. Bois-Guilbert's identity is so bound up in his fame as a knight that he can't give it up, even if it means the death of the woman he loves.

"Call me no longer Locksley, my Liege, but know me under the name, which, I fear, fame hath blown too widely not to have reached even your royal ears – I am Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest."

"King of Outlaws, and Prince of good fellows!" said the King, "who hath not heard a name that has been borne as far as Palestine? But be assured, brave Outlaw, that no deed done in our absence, and in the turbulent times to which it hath given rise, shall be remembered to thy disadvantage." (40.110-111)

The captain of the outlaws/Robert Locksley/Robin Hood is the last of the disguised characters to be revealed in the book. But it's odd: the backdrop of Ivanhoe is primarily historical. King Richard and Prince John were both actual rulers of England in the 1190s, but Robin Hood has always been a legendary character, since he first appeared in medieval ballads. Maybe he's based on a real guy, but if so that guy has been largely forgotten by history. The introduction of Robin Hood into Ivanhoe takes us a bit out of historical novel territory and into romance or fantasy fiction. Why do you think Scott decided to mix in the Robin Hood legends with his historical tale of Normans vs. Saxons? What motivations does he give Robin Hood's character?

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