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Protagonist: Wilfred of Ivanhoe is the protagonist of the novel. He is the strong-willed son of Cedric, who is disinherited for two reasons. First, he feels some acceptance for the Norman king, Richard, despite his father's obvious hatred for all Normans. Ivanhoe believes that Norman rule is in England to stay and decides to accept it, in sharp contrast to his father, who stubbornly clings to his hope for a new Saxon line to the throne. Ivanhoe's second offense is that he has fallen in love with his father's ward, a beautiful young woman named Rowena. His father already has political plans to marry Rowena to a Saxon knight as part of his insistent scheming. Prior to the onset of action, Ivanhoe has been absent from England, taking part in the Crusades. When he returns, he disguises himself, first at Cedric's court as a Palmer, then as the Disinherited Knight, the brave challenger at the tournament of Ashby-de-la-Zouche. Ivanhoe proves that he is courageous, loyal, and honest, the opposite of the shallow Norman Knights against whom he often competes.
King Richard is the protagonist of the sub-plot. Like Ivanhoe, he has been displaced, for he has been kidnapped and is held captive in a foreign land. He has been a popular Norman king, even among many Saxons, for he is known for being fair and considerably more respectful of the Saxons than other Norman leaders. He must fight to regain his power from his unscrupulous brother, Prince John.
Antagonist: Ivanhoe's antagonist is the group of people that oppose him, including his own father, Cedric and the wicked Norman lords, especially Brian de Bois-Guilbert. Ivanhoe must nobly fight against the Norman Knights in order to help King Richard regain his power and to prove his own bravery and nobility. Ivanhoe must convince his father that he is worthy of respect and winning the hand of Rowena in marriage.
Richard's antagonist in the sub-plot is his brother John, who has usurped his power and rules with injustice. He is everything wicked and evil, the embodiment of division and conquest. He encourages the total appropriation of Saxon land and goods, fanning the already strong hatred and dislike between the two groups. He conspires to keep his fair and popular brother from returning to power. Richard must displace him to regain his rightful place as King of England.
Climax: The moment of climax occurs when Ivanhoe defeats the forces of evil in his fight to save Rebecca from being burned at the stake. He fights nobly, killing the wicked Bois-Guilbert and saving Rebecca. He also reconciles with his father and marries Rowena. At the end of the novel, he is a happy and honored hero.
The moment of climax in the sub-plot is at the battle of Torquilstone, when Prince John and the evil knights are defeated. As a result, Richard is able to regain the throne. Simultaneously, Cedric moderates his extreme beliefs and accepts the changing face of his country, giving up hope for a Saxon king and pledging loyalty to Richard. In short, the two sides of an extremely volatile conflict learn to moderate their beliefs and exist in a little more stable world. All of the good and noble characters, especially Richard, come out to be winners.
Outcome: The novel ends as a comedy with lots of happiness to spread around. Ivanhoe defeats Bois-Guilbert and saves Rebecca, proving that nobility is better than wickedness. He also reconciles with his father and marries Rowena, who loves him dearly. King Richard is restored to the throne, bringing an era of peace to England. Cedric has accepted that the Saxons are not ready to again rule and is finally at peace with the rulers of his country. Even Prince John is spared by his kind brother, who scolds him and sends him home to his mother. In true romantic fashion, the good characters emerge victorious, while the defeated bad characters enjoy some mercy at the hands of the victors.