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Why are Beowulf and Hrothgar both considered great kings?

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Palma Ebert eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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For the sake of reference, I will be using Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf to answer your question.

To understand what standard the Anglo-Saxons considered to be “great kingship,” the anonymous author of Beowulf establishes this for his readers in the first lines of the poem by describing Shield Sheafson. Shield accomplishes a number of things, but is known primarily as a “wrecker of mead-benches” to whom “each clan on the outlying coasts beyond the whale-road had to yield… and… pay tribute.” The passage ends with “That was one good king.” This information all appears in the first eleven lines of the poem.

So that being said, a great king is one that expands his borders, inspires terror in his enemies, and is a brilliant warrior who destroys the halls of...

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