Discuss Beowulf as a king. Is he honorable? Are his men loyal?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Beowulf , a hero of the Geats people, comes to help King Hrothgar of Denmark by defeating Grendel the monster who has been terrorizing the Danish mead-hall called Heorot. Beowulf hears of the Danish people's plight and accepts the challenge of slaying the monster, setting sail for Hrothgar's kingdom. Beowulf...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Beowulf, a hero of the Geats people, comes to help King Hrothgar of Denmark by defeating Grendel the monster who has been terrorizing the Danish mead-hall called Heorot. Beowulf hears of the Danish people's plight and accepts the challenge of slaying the monster, setting sail for Hrothgar's kingdom. Beowulf tears the monster’s arm off, and Grendel struggles back into the swamp to die.

The new-found peace and joy is short lived, however. As the Danes are rejoicing over Grendel's death, Grendel's mother seeks revenge for her son's death. Beowulf travels to the mother's underground layer and rids the kingdom of monsters once and for all. Beowulf then returns to Geatland bringing glory and treasure back to his home. After the king of Geatland's son dies, Beowulf ascends to the throne.

Beowulf is honorable in the sense that he brings prosperity to Geatland. Even before this, after the death of the King Hylegac, Beowulf supports Hylegac's son to become the next king, putting his own aspirations aside. He does the honorable thing and respects the heir to the throne.

Fifty years after Beowulf's battle with Grendel, a dragon awakens in the kingdom and starts to burn everything within its sight. Beowulf leaves to fight the dragon and tells his men that he will do so alone—asking them to wait on the barrow. Beowulf, along with Wiglaf, who comes to his aid, slays the dragon but is mortally wounded. His men prove to be cowardly and retreat into the woods, fearing for their lives. Only Wiglaf is loyal to his king and stays to fight the dragon.

One can argue that in the instance of fighting the dragon alone, Beowulf is not an honorable king. He leaves his people alone, ill-equipped to fight their surrounding enemies. Beowulf's rash action to defeat the dragon alone appears not to have his people's best interest at heart: “when one man follows his own will / many are hurt” (ll.3077–8).

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team