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)
Although 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.
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.
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