Anglo-Saxon Period to the Renaissance
“The Pride Place of Beowulf and Hrothgar”
Name: Koshnoor Jahan
The Pride Place of Beowulf and Hrothgar:
The king of the Danes (Scyldings) is a wise and great man, but he has lost some of his strength with age. In his prime, Hrothgar built the Scyldings into a powerful military and social entity, symbolized by the erection of his great mead-hall, Heorot. More a palace, Heorot is decorated with gold and fine tapestries. It is the center of Hrothgar's kingdom and a place of joy and light, which is exactly what Grendel, who has been raiding the hall for a dozen years, resents. For some time, Hrothgar's men have spent their nights elsewhere as Grendel freely bivouacs in Heorot.
Hrothgar has become famous for his leadership and generosity, important virtues that are closely linked in the world of Beowulf. As a young king, he once protected Beowulf's now deceased father, Ecgtheow, during a blood feud and purchased peace with Ecgtheow's enemies through a kind of payment known as wergild, providing major reasons for Beowulf's devotion to Hrothgar at the beginning of the poem. Hrothgar also became famous for taking care of his own thanes, sharing treasure and land with them as the heroic code of comitatus prescribes.
Hrothgar's speech to Beowulf (1700 ff.) before the Geats depart, known as "Hrothgar's Sermon," is important thematically as it warns of the dangers of fame and the mutability of time. Hrothgar speaks of the temptations of hubris (excessive pride) and tells young Beowulf always to remember that great joy is followed by great sorrow. The old king offers his own life as an example of the changing fortunes that can come with age. Foreshadowing Beowulf's trials in later life, Hrothgar points out that he ruled successfully for 50 years until Grendel brought him to his knees. Beowulf, whom Hrothgar thinks of as a son, must beware of pride and old age. Throughout the last third of the poem, we are haunted by Hrothgar'smessage and compelled to view Beowulf's actions in the context of the sermon.
The reader is first introduced to Beowulf as he disembarks from his ship, having just arrived in the land of the Danes (Scyldings) from his home in Geatland. He is an impressive-looking man. The Scylding coastal guard points out that he has never seen "a mightier noble, / a larger man" (247-48) even though he has held this office and served his king, Hrothgar, for many years, watching all kinds of warriors come and go. Beowulf is huge and strong. We are soon told that he has the strength of 30 men in his hand-grip. Just as important is the way that the young warrior (not much more than 20 years of age) carries himself; the Geat has the bearing of a noble leader, a champion, perhaps a prince. He has arrived to help the Scyldings; for 12 years, a mighty man-like ogre named Grendel has menaced Hrothgar's great mead-hall, Heorot, terrorizing and devouring the Danes.
In a seminal lecture, often anthologized (see CliffsNotes Resource Center), English novelist and scholar J. R. R. Tolkien ("Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics," Proceedings of the British Academy, XXII , 245-95) argues that the central structural motif of Beowulf is the balance between beginnings and endings, of youth and age. The most dominating example of this is the life of Beowulf himself. When he arrives in Hrothgar's kingdom, the hero of the epic is still a very young man. He is out to establish a name for himself. Reputation is a key theme of the poem and of central importance to Beowulf. As the coastal guard first approaches the Geats, he asks about Beowulf's lineage (251). Beowulf mentions his father's accomplishments and reputation as well as his king, Hygelac, and his people, the Geats. To King Hrothgar (418 ff.), he properly reveals more: Beowulf once killed a tribe of giants and has driven enemies from his homeland. He already has a favorable