Explain what is specially ominous about the behavior of Beowulf's men during the final battle and what does it suggest about the future of the kingdom?
Before directly answering this question, it is important to understand the position of the men as Beowulf's thanes. Throughout the poem, the bond between thane and treasure-giver, or king, is manifested to be a strong and inviolable one. The king gives his thanes shelter and food and riches, and they in return swear loyalty and obedience. When the king is attacked, the thanes must defend him; and when the thanes perform such deeds of valor, they are rewarded with treasure.
Beowulf's men, however, hide when it comes to fighting the dragon. It is true that Beowulf tells them not to help him, but this is confusing; they must keep their oaths of obedience but not of loyalty. They must obey but not rally round the king, yet the one necessarily includes the other. The choice to accept this contradiction seems to be motivated by their unmistakable fear. They prefer to leave the monster to Beowulf and hide behind the command.
However, Wiglaf, one of the thanes and a relative of Beowulf, cannot stand this. He speaks chidingly to the others:
I remember the time that we took mead together,
when we made promises to our prince
that we would pay him back for this battle-gear,
these helmets and hard swords, if such a need
as this ever befell him." (Liuzza, lines 2633-38)
In other words, we pledged to defend our king. He gave us the weapons in order to defend him; now we have to fulfill that debt by so defending. Wiglaf adds, "For this he chose us from the army / for this adventure" (2638-39); that is, he selected us to accompany him precisely because...
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