In Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott takes one of my favorite time periods of English history, the twelfth century, and writes an action packed story around a cast of both real and fictional characters. It is by far one of the most entertaining and pleasantly surprising books I’ve had to read for literature class, and I just wanted to share one of my favorite passages from the story which for me really sums up vibe permeating throughout the novel.
Set during a time when the infamous Prince John is trying to seize the kingdom from his brother Richard, the story of the knight Ivanhoe starts at a jousting tournament, continues with the siege of a castle, and ends with a witch trial. Ivanhoe shows the contrast between the harsh reality of the era and grand fancies of the ruling classes.
One of my favorite scenes is when Wamba the jester, disguised as a friar, says it is time for Athelstane and Cedric, two captive Saxon lords, to confess their sins because their captors will kill them. Athelstane answers with the following passage:
” ‘I am ready,’ answered Athelstane, ‘to stand for the worst of their malice, and shall walk to my death with as much composure as ever I did to my dinner.’ “
Athelstane’s statement perfectly sums up the world that Ivanhoe takes place in. It is a world of grand gestures, jubilant jollity, and death. Valuing chivalry above all else, the men in Ivanhoe, whether hero or not, take on risky tasks against their better judgments and risk neck and limb to uphold their honor. It is in their definition of the word “honor” that the heroes and anti-heroes differ. For Ivanhoe and King Richard honor means upholding their word no matter what and returning favors to those who have helped them in the past. For men like Brian de Bois-Guilbert this means letting nothing tarnish their fame or hinder their success. These men complete impossible dares one minute, have a party about their success the next, and then a few minutes later, prepare to die, feasting and reveling all the while.