The Old English poem Beowulf tells the story of Beowulf, a supreme warrior and a legendary Germanic hero. Does, however, Beowulf make a good king in the story? (are the criteria for a “king” and “warrior” the same?). Focusing on the implicit criteria for a “good king” explain how Beowulf’s heroic exploits and character qualify him (or not) for “a good king.”
Beowulf is the greatest and oldest surviving Anglo-Saxon or English poem. The poem has been dated in between the 8th and the early 11th century. This poem is about a great hero of the Geats, Beowulf, who had come to help the king of the Danes, Hrothgar, battling and being victorious against the enemies. Different plots are introduced in the poem showing Beowulf’s heroic and a warrior’s character where he slain all his enemies. Glory is the main theme in this poem where Beowulf has a strong character and he does it by facing and killing all three monsters in the whole poem: Grendel, Grendel’s mother and the fiery dragon. His quest for glory never ends throughout the poem. At the end, he killed the dragon but himself was wounded to death which was heroic as well as tragic.
In the poem, Beowulf is introduced as a great warrior. He came to help the Danes with fourteen of his finest men from Geatland. The poem tells one of the bravest moment of Beowulf. It was the fifth night of the swimming contest; two other swimmers were lost by a storm whereas Beowulf returned to the shore slaying nine sea monsters. He cuts off Grendel’s claw, chops off Grendel’s mother head and kills the fiery dragon. His passion for victory shows the true meaning of a great warrior. His loyalty of helping Hrothgar as a return for giving his father a shelter long back in a deadly feud which reflects him as a great personality as well.
In the meantime, he had returned to the Geatland and started serving Hygelac, who was killed in the battle of Shylfings and his son later died in a feud. Then, Beowulf was honored to ascend the throne of the Geatland. He ruled happily over fifty years. He brought happiness and prosperity to the people of Geatland. One day, a thief stole away the treasure from a fiery dragon as a result the dragon destroys the whole city. This moment Beowulf decides to kill the dragon and he does it with the help of Wiglaf. Beowulf knew this was a close encounter as he could get killed.
In my opinion, at this structure of the poem, Beowulf cannot be considered as a “good king.” He did bring peace to his people but getting involved in the battle with the dragon was not the best decision made by the King. I think he should have called his orders and sent his brave men first. His death could have brought attack from different enemies. These enemies were laid back previously because of the Beowulf’s bravery. He should have thought about the city and the people about what could happen if he gets killed in the battle.
The poem only states fifty years of reign of Beowulf being a King. It has summarized the fifty years with only happiness and prosperity brought to the people. I wonder if there had been any extension of the kingdom. If it had happened, I would believe the writer would have mentioned about it. So, a good king will always think about expanding his territory and building up strong forces just to be prepared for any kinds of attack. We know the courage and strength Beowulf possessed. But if he was a good king he would have built up forces stronger than ever to face any battle.
A great warrior, interestingly, bolsters his kin through the quest for individual popularity, regardless of whether on the front line, in accomplishments of quality, or by intentionally searching out clash, similarly as Beowulf does in going to Hrothgar’s guide and battling Grendel. Beowulf’s heroic can be seen here as a great warrior but not as a good king. He has been in these battles and nothing could stop him from going against the dragon. A good king would have stayed back and sent his forces against the dragon unless he had to step up. Having a true heart of warrior, with utter strength, courage and hope at his old age; he went to face the fiery dragon who he expected cannot be easily defeated. He marched into the cave and kills away the dragon but gets wounded to death in the battle.
In the poem, we had another king, the king of Danes, Hrothgar. When Hrothgar was attacked by Grendel he asked Beowulf for help rather than himself involved into the battle and getting killed. He took that decision because he knew that if the king dies, kingdom falls apart. He had to stand back for the people and the Kingdom. As a result, a brave warrior, Beowulf, came in for help and murdered his enemy. A good king always looks upon the future of the kingdom which I guess was lacking in Beowulf because of his warrior values. His heroic moments and his loyalty with Hrothgar and Hygelac reflects the strong character of a great warrior. So, I think Beowulf is a great warrior and a hero but not a good king.