A Noble King – Rebecca Thompson

A noble king is often portrayed as a warrior who is superior in strength, skill, or appearance, but nobility is a trait exemplified by outstanding qualities such as ideals or morals. There is a Hindustani Proverb that proclaims, “There is nothing noble in being superior to some other person.” This insightful quote goes along well with the epic poem Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney because Hrothgar, King of the Danes, shows he is noble through his virtues even compared to the superior warrior Beowulf. Although Beowulf kills the hell-serf Grendel with his awesome strength, he is not nobler than the king. Hrothgar has multiple reputable qualities, such as his generosity, graciousness, and care for other people. These good attributes are three evidences of the king’s noble character.

Hrothgar is a noble king primarily because of his generosity. This is evident when the poem states that Hrothgar, “… would dispense his God-given gifts to young and old” (71-72). The gifts the king gives are his best because they are the ones that are “God-given” and this shows his desire to bless others as God has blessed him. When this excerpt declares that the king gives “gifts to young and old”, it is implying that he gives gifts to everyone because he is both able and desirous to do so. Additionally, Hrothgar tells the warrior who defeats Grendel and Grendel’s mother to save Hrothgar’s kingdom, “So now, Beowulf, I adopt you in my heart as a dear son. Nourish and maintain this new connection, you noblest of men; there’ll be nothing you’ll want for, no worldly goods that won’t be yours” (945-949). By saying “I adopt you in my heart as a dear son”, Hrothgar is trying to convey to Beowulf that he will altruistically provide both possessions and fatherly affection for the warrior.  Furthermore, the king goes on to say to Beowulf, “there’ll be nothing you’ll want for, no worldly goods that won’t be yours.” When the king pronounces this, he is saying that he will give Beowulf all he has to give, which reveals the king’s lavishly charitable nature and willingness to give up his precious goods in a way that few people would do. Another example from Beowulf that illustrates the king’s generosity occurs after the warrior returns to his homeland and explains to his uncle King Hygelac, “Halfdane’s heir, the shelter of those earls, again endowed me with gifts in abundance. Thus the king acted with due custom. I was paid and recompensed completely, given full measure and the freedom to choose from Hrothgar’s treasures by Hrothgar himself” (2142-2147). By stating he is “endowed” with gifts and “given full measure and the freedom to choose from Hrothgar’s treasures,” Beowulf is explaining that the king is so exceedingly magnanimous that he allows Beowulf to choose his reward out of the king’s most precious possessions. This statement connotes that Beowulf is given Hrothgar’s treasures “by Hrothgar himself” and that the lord of the Danes comes in person to Beowulf to offer him his own priceless riches. These actions by Hrothgar help prove he is an unselfish and therefore virtuous king.

The next illustration depicts the graciousness that makes King Hrothgar a noble figure in the book. The king’s watchman Wulfgar pleads with the king upon the arrival of Beowulf and his men, “Most gracious Hrothgar, do not refuse them, but grant them a reply” (366-367). In this reference, Wulfgar is asking the king to graciously reply to Beowulf’s recommendation of himself to fight Grendel, an evil monster that terrorizes Hrothgar’s kingdom. After this request, Hrothgar goes on to reply to Beowulf and is “most gracious” by letting him enter his kingdom to fight the monster. Rather than pridefully rejecting Beowulf, Hrothgar diplomatically welcomes him because he knows this will benefit his people. This is especially significant because Hrothgar’s last encounter with Beowulf’s father was not a pleasant one and he references it in his conversation with Beowulf  once he enters the land of the Danes, “There was a feud one time, begun by your father.. Finally I healed the feud by paying” (459 and 470). Hrothgar  graciously receives  Beowulf  even though Beowulf’s father started a feud by murdering someone and Hrothgar had  to remedy the situation by paying though it was not his fault (459-472). This shows how merciful Hrothgar is to Beowulf’s father by paying his debt and welcoming his son into his home. Clearly the king has forgiven Beowulf’s father. A further instance is seen when Beowulf, right before returning to his own homeland, speaks of Hrothgar as a gracious host: “Here we have been welcomed and thoroughly entertained. You have treated us well. If there is any favor on earth I can perform… anything that would merit your affections more, I shall act, my lord, with alacrity” (1820-1822 and 1824-1825). Beowulf, saying he has been “welcomed and thoroughly entertained” and “treated… well”, is describing his trip to Heorot as pleasant and thanking Hrothgar for being a courteous host. When Beowulf states, “If there is any favor on earth I can perform… anything that would merit your affections more, I shall act, my lord, with alacrity”, he is stating that, because of his new found admiration for Hrothgar, he will do anything for him with eagerness, because Hrothgar has treated Beowulf and his men chivalrously. The past exemplifications of Hrothgar’s gracious nature demonstrate that he is a righteous man.

Finally the Danish King’s nobility is characterized by his caring nature. After Beowulf’s arrival  Hrothgar reveals his belief to the warrior that God, “guided him here to the West-Danes, to defend us from Grendel” (381-383). When Hrothgar acknowledges that Beowulf comes to Heorot “to defend” the kingdom “from Grendel”, he is showing that he cares for his people enough to allow outside help into his territory to rid the kingdom of the one monster Grendel, even at the risk of looking less capable than Beowulf in doing so. This example shows that Hrothgar’s desire for his people’s welfare is greater than his concern for his reputation as an able warrior. Additionally Hrothgar’s caring nature is seen when he displays extreme grief after the death of a warrior and friend lamenting, “Aeschere is dead. He was Yrmenlaf’s elder brother and a soul-mate to me, a true mentor, my right-hand man when the ranks clashed and our boar-crests had to take a battering in the line of action. Aeschere was everything the world admires in a wise man and a friend” (1323-1328). When Hrothgar communicates that Aeschere was his “soul-mate”, he is communicating that his friend meant a lot to him and was close to him. Also, by  saying “Aeschere was everything the world admires in a wise man and a friend”, Hrothgar  shows the depths of his devotion to his friend. Another illustration of the king’s warmheartedness takes place after Beowulf defeats the monster Grendel’s mother and he entreats, “Choose, dear Beowulf, the better part, eternal rewards. Do not give way to pride” (1759-1760). Hrothgar implores the mighty warrior to choose “eternal rewards” because he is concerned for Beowulf’s salvation and does not want him to focus only on temporal, earthly rewards. Also, when the lord of the Danes commands Beowulf, “Do not give way to pride”, he is alluding to worries that Beowulf may fall into temptation, which implies that he cares about Beowulf . One more instance of King Hrothgar’s compassionate nature occurs when he says farewell to Beowulf. “And so the good and gray-haired Dane, that highborn king, kissed Beowulf and embraced his neck, then broke down in sudden tears… And such was his affection that he could not help being overcome: his fondness for the man was so deep-founded, it warmed his heart and wound his heartstrings tight in his breast” (1870-1873 and 1876-1879). This display when Beowulf is about to leave Heorot when Hrothgar “broke down in sudden tears” proves that he cares deeply for Beowulf, and despite being a grown man and king, he actually cries at the thought of his friend returning home. Likewise, when the book communicates “his fondness for the man was so deep-founded”, it implicates that the Danish king’s devotion to Beowulf is unshakable. Consequently, Hrothgar’s care for others manifests that he is an unselfish man.

In conclusion King Hrothgar is proven to be a noble king in the epic poem by another exemplar when Beowulf voices, “Yet there was no laying of blame on their lord, the noble Hrothgar; he was a good king” (861-862). When this citation states that “there was no laying of blame on their lord”, this reference is pointing out that Hrothgar did not end up being blamed for needing help to fight Grendel, because he was such an upright man. Consequently, “The noble Hrothgar… was a good king”, plainly states that he is an honorable king. The poem’s comments about Hrothgar prove that the king is no less noble than Beowulf, because, though Beowulf is seen as the hero and superior in this epic poem, he is not nobler than Hrothgar, for, “There is nothing noble in being superior to some other person.”

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