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The plot of Ivanhoe has a classical structure, based upon an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution (denouement). The first chapter is largely expository. The novel opens with two of Cedric's servants, Gurth (the swineherd) and Wamba (the Jester) talking to each other in the forest. They introduce some of the main characters in their speech and give the historical and social background necessary to understand the plot. Gurth and Wamba talk of the absence of King Richard, who is held captive abroad; they also discuss the unjust Forest Laws, the danger of outlaws, the cruelties practiced by the Normans against the Saxons, and the consequent antagonism between the two races. In short, they introduce the Themes of the book and foreshadow some of the action of the conflict.
The Rising Action begins with the sudden appearance of Bois- Guilbert and the Prior Aymer. It is an immediate confrontation between two established rivals; Wamba and Gurth represent the Saxons, while Bois-Guilbert and the Prior represent the Normans. During the conversation between the two parties, it is revealed that Cedric has disinherited his son Ivanhoe and that he has a beautiful ward, Rowena. The Normans demand to be lodged with Cedric, a staunch Saxon, and ask for directions, which are falsely given by the two servants. The banquet at Cedric's castle introduces the Jews, Isaac and Rebecca, and reveals the poor treatment they receive. Only Ivanhoe, disguised as a Palmer, is kind to Isaac.
The action keeps moving upward to the tournament at Ashby, where Ivanhoe, now disguised as the Disinherited Knight, beats all the Norman knights, including Bois-Guilbert. It becomes obvious that these two contrasting knights will be again placed in opposition. The climax is neared when the wounded Ivanhoe and all of Cedric's party are captured by De Bracy's men and imprisoned in Torquilstone Castle. Wamba hastens the climax when he changes robes with Cedric who, once free, joins the outlaws and the disguised King Richard to attack the Normans held up on the castle. The Normans are defeated and Urfried sets fire to the castle, killing both herself and Front-De-Boeuf.
In the falling action, the Black Knight, who has helped Ivanhoe and the Saxons, reveals himself as Richard the Lion-Hearted, the rightful King of England and is restored to the throne. Cedric mellows and seems to accept that the Saxons will never regain the crown. He also forgives his son, allowing Rowena to marry Ivanhoe. In the conclusion, all of the loose ends are tied up. Before departing from England with her father, Rebecca comes to express her appreciation to Rowena; she is unable to face her beloved Ivanhoe in person.
The narrative line of the plot moves slowly and smoothly through the rising action to the conclusion, except for some infrequent occasions when Scott uses flashbacks to explain his plot, to link up characters, or to supply missing information. There are also a few moments of authorial intrusion into the plot line, when Scott enters the novel to directly give additional information, especially related to medieval history or customs. Neither the intrusions or the flashbacks detract significantly from the well developed and unified plot he has created in Ivanhoe.