Ivanhoe and the Black Knight — Costumes for the 1828 Stage Adaptation
Ivanhoe: A Romance is an 1819 historical novel by Sir Walter Scott, set in the reign of King Richard The Lion Heart and largely concerning the long-smouldering antagonism between the Normans and Saxons in the centuries after the Norman Conquest — an antagonism which, at that date, is highly anachronistic (one might call it a sort of Hollywood History) and largely the product of Scott's teeming imagination. In the face of severe criticism by his own contemporaries on this and other historical inaccuracies, Scott himself admitted, "It is extremely probable that I may have confused the manners of two or three centuries," but comforted himself that "errors of this kind will escape the general class of readers." And indeed, despite the author's Whig history limitations and prejudices (which are evident), Ivanhoe is a stirring and colourful tale, with plenty of action, lovable heroes and heroines and hissable villains, and a real feeling for the genuine — if extremely exaggerated — romance of The High Middle Ages.The novel was originally something of a Pot-boiler. Scott's popularity as a poet was waning in the face of the more exotic verses of Lord Byron, and his over-gentrified lifestyle and a life-threatening bout of illness had left his pocketbook in an equally sickly condition. His Scottish novels were popular enough, but of limited appeal; Scott felt, moreover, the need for a fresher source of inspiration — so he turned to History and The Middle Ages, the object of his lifelong and devoted — if not always pedantically accurate — study. The novel won immediate, long-lasting, and deserved popularity, restored Scott's fortunes, and helped to launch the entire Historical Fiction genre.
Ivanhoe was a US production, directed by Herbert Brenon, and starring King Baggot as Ivanhoe, Leah Baird as Rebecca, Herbert Brenon as Isaac, Evelyn Hope as Rowena, and Wallace Widdicombe as Bois-Guilbert;
Rebecca the Jewess was directed by Leedham Bantock and featured Lauderdale Maitland, Ethel Bracewell, Hubert Carter, Nancy Bevington, and Harry Lonsdale in the same rôles, respectively. (Oddly, both were filmed in the same locations at Chepstow Castle in Wales.)
In 1952, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced what is probably the best remembered film version, Ivanhoe, directed by Richard Thorpe, and starring Robert Taylor as Wilfred, Elizabeth Taylor as Rebecca, Felix Aylmer as Isaac, Joan Fontaine as Rowena, George Sanders as Bois-Guilbert, Finlay Currie as Cedric. This version was nominated for three Academy Awards, for Best Picture, Best Colour Cinematography, and Best Score for Miklós Rózsa; it stressed the spectacular and swashbuckling elements.
A Russian adaptation in 1983, The Ballad of the Valiant Knight Ivanhoe (Баллада о доблестном рыцаре Айвенго, Ballada o Dovlestnom Ryzare "Ayvenho") appeared, directed by Sergey Tarasov, starring Peteris Gaudins as Ivanhoe and featuring songs by Vladimir Vysotsky.
A 1958 television series with Roger Moore as Ivanhoe.
A 1970 miniseries starring Eric Flynn.
A very well regarded adaptation in 1982 with Anthony Andrews as Ivanhoe, Olivia Hussey as Rebecca, James Mason as Isaac, Lysette Anthony as Rowena, Sam Neill as Bois-Guilbert and John Rhys-Davies as Reginald Front-de-Boeuf.
Another 1997 production, a mini-series produced by A&E and the BBC, starring Steven Waddington, with Susan Lynch as Rebecca, Victoria Smurfit as Rowena, Christopher Lee as Beaumanoir, and Ciarán Hinds as Bois-Guilbert.
Darkest Knight, a 2000 Channel 5 adaptation starring Ben Pullen as Ivanhoe and Charlotte Comer as Rebecca.
Interestingly, there have been several operatic versions: Gioachino Rossini's Ivanhoé (a pastiche which did not impress Scott, who attended a performance), Thomas Sari's Ivanhoé, Bartolomeo Pisani's Rebecca, A. Castagnier's Rébecca, Otto Nicolai's Il Templario, and Heinrich Marschner's Der Templer und die Jüdin. The best known, however, is probably Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan's rather turgidly solemn 1891 adaptation, which impressed Queen Victoria and ran for over 150 performances.
Tropes employed by this novel (and its various adaptations) include:
Abhorrent Admirer: Athelstane and de Bracy for Rowena; Bois-Guilbert for Rebecca; Prince John for Alicia Fitzurse.
Adaptation Distillation: A number of the various adaptations have successfully reinterpreted the original in the terms of their own eras. The 1952 version was extremely popular in an age which demanded spectacle. The 1982 version attempted a sort of Adventures of Ivanhoe approach, and featured some striking performances. The 1997 A&E/BBC version went for a Darker and Edgier, de-romanticized interpretation that captured more of the sense of suspense and tragedy in the novel than other versions. As is the way with most great works, each age will get the kind of Ivanhoe that best suits it.
Adult Fear: Being part of a subjugated race. Check. Having arrogant aristocrats able and willing to do whatever they want to do to you with the approval of the law. Having a Corrupt Church tell you that you are supposed to be subjugated. Check. Being mocked because your ancestors lost a battle. Check. Being kidnapped by a would-be rapist. Check.
Anticlimax: In the trial by combat to determine the fate of Rebecca, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, the invincible Templar, is facing Wilfred of Ivanhoe, who is still recovering from his wounds — but when they actually joust, Bois-Guilbert simply keels over dead, "a victim of his own contending passions," and Wilfred is left standing there, looking awkward.
Black and White Morality: Certainly most of the Goodies are very good, and most of the Baddies very bad, but it does not prevent them from being memorable characters. One is inclined to say that, rather than being Black and White, they are all rendered in primary colours.
Character Development: Sir Brian de Bois-Guillbert evolves from fully intending to rape the lovely Rebecca to trying to persuade her to turn Christian and voluntarily become his mistress to finally offering to throw away a lifetime of ambitions and plots if she will only accept him. The extent to which this is improvement is highly questionable since he remains unwilling to take "no" for an answer throughout and intends to let her be burned alive as a witch if she won't accept him.
Corrupt Church: Sir Walter, being a conventional if not convicted Presbyterian, invented quite a few corrupt churchmen as Take Thats against the Roman Catholic Church: the worldly Prior Aylmer, the proud, cruel, and lustful Bois-Guilbert, the ignorant and violent "hedge-priest" Friar Tuck, the unscrupulous Malvoisin, the fanatical Beaumanoir, the greedy and treacherous Abbot Wolfram who betrays Athelstane. Indeed, there is not a single completely decent cleric in the whole novel.
To be fair, Prior Aymer's faults are, made up for to a large degree by his good nature. He is fonder of the wine, the women and the hunt more then a churchman should be but he is not cruel like many of the characters and not a Knight Templar.
Courtly Love: Played straight by Wilfred and Rowena (and Rebecca for Wilfred; subverted by Athelstane and de Bracy for Rowena; beaten all to hell and back by Bois-Guilbert for Rebecca
The Crusades: Where many of the main characters are returning from — specifically, the Third Crusade.
The Dung Ages: Averted in Scott's original novel, though some adaptations have depicted at least parts of the setting this way.
They are sure not presented as sweet, kind, and pleasant ages though.
Estrogen Brigade: In-universe. In the first volume, the narrator spends a lot of time repeatedly pointing out how much the ladies enjoy tournaments and matches between knights even more enthusiastically than many men.
Evil Chancellor: Waldemar Fitzurse — not personally depraved, but certainly ruthlessly ambitious — and a heck of a lot smarter than nearly all the other baddies.
Gratuitous Norman French: Mort de ma vie! The Normans here are always bursting out with Gallic oaths and phrases — in fact, the novel practically opens with a long discussion between Gurth and Wamba of the intermingling of French words with English and the subtle distinctions of meaning between them both.
Foil: Rowena and Rebecca, as Scott shows by paralleling their reactions to their would-be-rapists.
Good Scars, Evil Scars: We're told that Reginald Front-de-Boeuf's scars would have made a positive impression if displayed on an entirely different kind of man. On Front-de-Boeuf, however...
Greedy Jew: Isaac of York in Ivanhoe is somewhere between an example and a subversion. He's a moneylender with seemingly unlimited stores of riches who is very concerned with his money, but he frequently states that his love for his daughter trumps all of his wealth.
Happiness in Slavery: Lampshaded. When Cedric offers Wamba his freedom Wamba asks that it be bestowed upon Gurth, joking that it is more pleasant to be a slave because no one asks slaves to go to war.
Historical Hero Upgrade: Richard I — though Scott's depiction is not uniformly a positive one; his Richard is proud, reckless, a bit sensual, rather violent, and perhaps on the whole not an entirely inaccurate depiction of the warrior king. Still, he does seem to leave out the king’s extreme arrogance, deviousness, intolerance, morbidity, and occasional bouts of almost insane fury. (The theory, by the way, that Richard was a homosexual — which would doubtless have scandalized the strait-laced Puritan Scott — was not seriously advanced until after his time.)
History Marches On: The view popularised by Sir Walter, of plucky "English" commoners still resisting their "Norman" overlords a century or two after the Conquest was questioned even in Scott's own time, and almost wholly abandoned by serious historians within the same century.
Hollywood Costuming: Scott's descriptions of clothing and armour are wildly at variance with our knowledge of 12th century costume.
The Knights Hospitallers: The Hospitaller, Ralph de Vipont, is a much less formidable figure than any of the other challengers at Ashby-de-la-Zouche.
The Knights Templar: Most importantly Brian de Bois-Guilbert, but also Albert de Malvoisin, Grand Master Lucas de Beaumanoir, et al.
Knight Templar: Averted, oddly enough, by most of the actual Templars in the story, but played absolutely straight by Lucas de Beaumanoir, who is a Knight Templar in both senses of the term — indeed, the Grand Master of the Order.
Literary Agent Hypothesis: Scott originally published the novel under the pseudonym Laurence Templeton, in which guise he claimed he was merely transcribing and editing an actual medieval document, the "Wardour Manuscript" note a pun on "Wardour Street" in London, which was known for its shops that sold antique furniture of dubious provenance — though the author’s actual identity seems to have been an open secret.
Love Dodecahedron: Rowena for Wilfred; Athelstane for Rowena, Maurice de Bracy for Rowena, Wilfred for Rowena; Rebecca for Wilfred; Bois-Guilbert for Rebecca.
Lust: Exemplified by a number of the baddies, perhaps most egregiously by Brian de Bois-Guilbert.
Medieval Morons: Averted for the most part; though some play is made of the credulity of the crowd during Rebecca's trial, it is made clear that the accusing witnesses found by Malvoisin are acting more out of greed, envy, and political corruption rather than out superstition. (Beaumanoir, though a fanatic, is not exactly a moron.)
The Middle Ages: Scott's Early Romantic, "Look-to-the-Knight-of-the-Fetterlock-Fair-Rebecca" conception of the 12th century England veers at times very close to the Theme Park Version of the mediæval period.
Names to Run Away From Really Fast: A lot of these. The Templar Preceptor Albert de Malvoisin ("bad neighbour").and his brother Philip; Reginald Front-de-Boeuf ("Or 'Beef-head'" as Richard Armour put it, in The Classics Reclassified). Waldemar Fitzurse's last name means "Son of the Bear" — which was also the surname of the ringleader of St. Thomas Becket's assassins.
Scott states outright that Waldemar is the assassin's son.
Never My Fault: Bois-Guilbert, refusing to realize that Rebecca is in danger of being sentenced to burn mainly because he kidnapped her.
Noble Bigot: Cedric, who is enraged against the bigotry of Normans, sometimes has trouble not being bigoted against Jews. As one of the major themes of the book is bigotry, such things are not surprising.
Paper-Thin Disguise: As the Palmer, Ivanhoe somehow manages to sneak back into his own home, where absolutely nobody recognizes him until he finally identifies himself to Gurth.
People of Hair Color: Although Scott’s assertion of a lingering racial animosity between Normans and Saxons was not absolutely without basis (there was in Henry II's time a Saxon noble called "William with the Beard" who refused to shave as a protest against the Conquest), there can be absolutely no doubt that such feelings were highly eccentric, uncommon, and of no practical social or political importance by the reign of Richard I.
"... ever since I grew to love Rebecca, that sweetest creature of the poet's fancy, and longed to see her righted." — Excerpt from Rebecca and Rowena
Pinball Protagonist: One of Scott's calling cards is the passive protagonist, who often spends most of the novel being carted around by the Action Hero. Ivanhoe is one of the best-known examples, and famously spends a battle sequence flat on his back in a tower, unable to see anything that's going on.
Playing the Victim Card: After Rebecca has been sentenced to death, Bois-Guilbert sees himself as the injured party because the girl still refuses to love him. Sure, it's his fault she's in this mess in the first place, but he would save her if she would just agree to reward him.
Public Domain Character: Robin Hood. Scott was not the first, by any means, but he is probably the most influential author in linking the outlaw's legend with Richard The Lion Heart and Prince John; more original with Scott was the linking of the legend with a supposed racial animosity between the Normans and the Saxons. Scott also popularised the name "Locksley" as associated with the outlaw.
Farewell, Front-de-Bœuf! May Mista, Skogula, and Zernebock, gods of the ancient Saxons — fiends as the priests now call them – supply the place of comforters at your dying bed, which Ulrica now relinquishes! But know, if it will give thee comfort to know it, that Ulrica is bound to the same dark coast with thyself, the companion of thy punishment as the companion of thy guilt. And now, parricide, farewell for ever! May each stone of this vaulted roof find a tongue to echo that title into thine ear!
Reality Is Unrealistic: The almost impossibly noble Rebecca is said to be the only character based directly one of Scott's contemporaries — a friend of Scott's friend Washington Irving — a Jewish lady from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, named Rebecca Gratz.
In that war-cry is the downfall of thy house. The blood-cemented fabric of Front-de-Boeuf's power totters to the foundation, and before the foes he most despised! The Saxon, Reginald! The scorned Saxon assails thy walls! Why liest here, when the Saxon assails thy place of strength?
Royal Brat: Prince John, who is constantly referred to as petty and spoiled, is an unusual adult version of this trope.
Those Two Guys: Gurth, a swineherd, and Wamba, a jester, whose conversation opens the novel.
Tomboy and Girly Girl: Rebecca and Rowena are universally and rather incorrectly treated this way among Rebecca/Ivanhoe shippers, including Thackeray — with all the venom the trope brings to "Girly Girl" Rowena. In Scott's novel, while Rebecca is unquestionably the most awesome by a landslide, Rowena actually resembles Princess Jasmine more than some IngenuePrincess Classic, and not to mention Rebecca isn't mentioned to be overly tomboyish either.
Historical Hero Upgrade: Also present in this adaptation, although it's played with differently. Ivanhoe staunchly supports Richard, because he's Richard's friend; almost all the other characters point out that there's very little to choose between Richard and John. Ivanhoe builds support for Richard by promising a civil rights movement.
Kangaroo Court: One of the witnesses against Rebecca starts crying and admits that she was forced to testify.
Scars Are Forever: As a result of the childhood blood oath, Rowena and Wilfred have matching small scars on their hands.
Tropes Present in the 1982 TV Adaptation
Adaptational Heroism: Sir Brian in this version did not die "a victim to the violence of his own contending passions", but rather died heroically. Though he could easily have defeated Ivanhoe, who was fighting as Rebecca's champion, he let himself be struck down for Rebecca's sake.
Canon Foreigner: An extremely strange case: Little John. Yes, he's a famous member of Robin Hood's band of merry men, but he's not in the novel (he's mentioned once, but only in the capacity of Robin telling the others that he's somewhere else entirely). Yet in this particular adaptation he's given a large part to play.
Historical Hero Upgrade: Somewhat played with, as is the Historical Villain Upgrade. Near the end of the plot Eleanor of Aquitane confronts both her sons and lambasts not only John, but Richard as well. If anything she's more annoyed with the latter, since he's spent all but three or four months of his reign in the Holy Lands and has near bankrupted England to pay for his war - leaving John to do the unpleasant but necessary task of raising the money and, oh yeah, keep the country running. As she says, 'John may be a miserable little runt, but at least he's been here!'
Xenafication: One gets the sense that the attempt was made to do this with Rowena before someone came to their senses. She is portrayed as much more fiesty and spirited than her book counterpart, and at one point she wields a sword in her own defence - only for the need to use it to never truly arise.