Comparisons between King Arthur and Beowulf

Looking back on the texts we have studied this course, Beowulf is the one which stands out as having the most similarities with Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.  Each King follows an epic-type plotline, similar to those in Greek mythology: in both texts a hero is needed by a fellow kingdom to destroy a beast or monster that is ravaging the community.

I noted some important aspects of their character which represent the parallels between the Beowulf and King Arthur:

Reputation: Both Kings had a reputation of power and godliness as described in the following lines:

  • Beowulf “There was no one else like him alive. In his day, he was the mightiest man on earth, highborn and powerful.” (196-198)
  • King Arthur “Those who deem him more than man, and dream he dropped from heaven.” (181-182)

The Quest for a monster:

  • Beowulf travels from his own Kingdom to Heorot to try and kill Grendel: “Grendel was the name of this grim demon haunting the marches, marauding round the heath and the desolate fens.” (102-103)
  • Beowulf  “All were endangered; young and old were hunted down by that dark death-shadow who lurked and swooped in the long nights on the misty moors.” (159-163)
  • While King Arthur travels to Cameliard in hope of destroying the beasts that live in the forest surrounding the court:“Many a beast therein, and none or few to scare or chase the beast; so that wild dog, and wolf and boar and bear came night and day, and rooted in the fields, and wallowed in the gardens of the King. (21-25).

Death: Beowulf and King Arthur are warriors, in a way both chose to die in battle beside their fallen comrades.

  • Beowulf “‘Fate swept us away, sent my whole brave highborn clan to their final doom. Now I must follow them.'”(2814-2816)
  • King Arthur “‘I perish by this people which I made…I am so deeply smitten through the helm that without help I cannot last till morn.'” (190-194)

arthurAlthough I listed the similarities between the two Kings (and stories) there are also aspects of their character which differ. For example, King Arthur’s lineage (and birth) is unclear and often speculated throughout this lifetime. Whereas Beowulf is known because of the Kingdom he was born into. A major plot of King Arthur’s story revolves around the sword Excalibur; although Beowulf relies on shields and armour, there is no specific weapon he choses to fight with. beowulf

 

 

 

These are just some of the similarities and differences I noticed while reading King Arthur. However, had we read the entirety of Idylls of the King, it is possible that the plots would differ more in the middle of the text than they did in The Coming of Arthur and The Passing of Arthur.

 

References:

Lord Tennyson, Alfred. “Idylls of the King.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print.

N/A. “Beowulf.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print

 

 

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4 Responses to Comparisons between King Arthur and Beowulf

  1. jddieu says:

    Hey Madelyn,

    Great post that efficiently sums up some of the similarities between the two texts of Beowulf and Idylls of the King. However, you mentioned something particularly interesting under the category of differences, which is that Arthur has Excalibur but Beowulf has no equal weapon of choice.
    On some levels I agree with you, but for the sake of argument, Beowulf was given the Hrunting sword by Unferth, which was like a famous heirloom and a legend of itself, although it did eventually dissolved away when battling Grendel’s mother.
    Yet, I must say it is true that Beowulf doesn’t have much affectations or predilections for using weapons, but rather prefers to boast in the great powers of his hands, using his hands as his choice of weapon.
    This, I find, helps to elevate Beowulf to a level of legendary proportions, unlike Arthur (in my opinion). Beowulf, to me, is a hero’s hero, a giant, a demi-god, which transforms the story into what feels to be a true epic, unlike Idylls of the King which holds more verisimilitude and is more grounded to reality, although still punctuated with moments of great feats and mysticism.
    But in the end, yes, the sword Excalibur does wield a great presence in the story of King Arthur, almost as if to be a character of its own.

    John Dieu
    27.02.13

    • madelynbrakke says:

      Thanks for the comment John!
      I definetely see how Beowulf’s lack of weaponary presents him as more of a god-like hero as compared to King Arthur. I think this is a good example of the differences between the authour of Beowulf and Tennyson as well. The Beowulf authour was alive during the Medieval period, while Tennyson is looking back on it. Tennyson has a slight advantage because he is able to incorporate new aspects of Medievalism that may have not yet existed for the Beowulf authour.

  2. carlyferguson1 says:

    Madelyn,

    I really enjoyed your post! One difference that also could be added is the personality both heroes carry throughout the readings. It is interesting to first look at how both characters gain their position, and then continue to maintain that position until death. How does the way Beowulf and King Arthur gain their position affect the way they act throughout leader ship if at all?

    Furthermore, an analysis on how both heroes re-act after battles/ encounters depicts a lot about their personality. Also the reputation that Beowulf hopes to maintain after his death is considerably different than that of Arthur.

    This then leaves me to question — what exactly is a hero and did Beowulf and or King Arthur meet those expectations with what we know to be a hero? Just a thought!

    – Carly

  3. npelletier says:

    I really liked that in this blog you talked about the similarities between the two kings because in many other blogs everyone was focusing on the differences between the two kings, including myself. When reading Idylls of the King, I didn’t consider that King Arthur came to a foreign land to fight off a monster, I thought he just showed up in Camelot and claimed he was king and then to prove his worth fought off the monsters of Cameilard. However I now understand that did not take place. I also think it is really neat that you pointed out the similarities in their reputation because to me their reputations were actually very different because Arthur was doubted from the start whereas no one ever doubted Beowulf.

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