English 340 A/B- Foundations: Literature in English from the Middle Ages to the Present
February. 27, 2013
King Arthur and Beowulf: Parallels in incentives and the submission to fate, and contrasted in the nature and extent of their struggles. (Idylls of the King participatory Blog Post Assignment Submission)
A Response to the Discussion Question: How is Arthur like or unlike any of the other kings from the previous texts of study?
Arthur is ultimately distinguished from Beowulf (an example of a king addressed within a previous assigned text of study) in his obstacles encountered in asserting and proving his legitimacy, while conferring the loyalty of his subjects. Where Arthur is similar to Beowulf, is his yielding to fate, and his resolve to achieve his ambitions of consolidating grandeur and admiration. Thus, an aspiration of glory correlates Arthur with Beowulf, while the capacity to achieve it, on Arthur’s behalf is more complicated than is the case with Beowulf, who perishes having satisfied the unrelenting loyalty and devotion from his subordinates and subjects.
Arthur, within Tennyson’s text Idylls of the King, must surmount the adversity of simultaneously supressing a revolt waged against his authority by Modred, and confronting the adulterous betrayal of his steadfast associate Lancelot, and his cherished wife Guinevere. Beowulf, on the other hand, during his tenure as king of the Geats, is encountered with the perils of a malicious dragon, undermining the security of his subjects. Thus, both sovereigns within the texts of Idylls of the King and Beowulf are taxed by forces serving to undermine the stability of their dominions, prompting each of them to submit to a fate of death in directly engaging these impediments. In other words, each textual king assumes their premature demise, under the incentive of establishing their prominence and heroism, and protecting those under their governance. Arthur, however, exhibits arrogance uncharacteristic of Beowulf in insisting upon the disposal of his coveted sword Excalibur, so as to prohibit his subordinates and adversaries the ability to repeat his exploits, or sustain his established prosperity. Beowulf, to the contrary, acknowledges the valiant Wiglaf’s prospects to carry on his legacy.
Where Arthur fundamentally differs from Beowulf is in his enduring struggles with a contested legitimacy, culminating into Modred’s rebellion conducted against him. Beowulf on the other hand, upon vanquishing Grendle, is bestowed with continuous praise and support. Thus, Arthur’s ambiguous lineage serves to compromise his conjuring of loyalty from his followers, in some respects ensuing in an enhanced adversity to that encountered by Beowulf. For instance, Arthur eventually experiences betrayals from those closest to him, including his subordinate regarded as most loyal, Lancelot, and the wife for which he expressed unwavering affinity, Guinevere, while Beowulf, prior to engaging the dragon in his concluding skirmish, must actually bid his followers to refrain from assisting him. In essence, while Beowulf and Arthur both serve to restore prosperity to the kingdoms featured in the settings of their respective texts, Beowulf in expelling Grendle from Hrothgar’s dominions, and Arthur in unifying the fractured kingdoms comprising Britain, Beowulf is not constantly faced with the stigma of constantly having to assert and affirm his identity and legitimacy. Ultimately, Beowulf must contend with supernatural forces alone, while Arthur must vanquish the forces of skepticism regarding his origins, and diminishing loyalty from his subjects and peers.
To conclude, Arthur is similar to the other kings chronicled within the assigned texts of study, in this case, Beowulf, in his commitment to yielding to fate to protect his subjects and consolidate glory, yet differs in the challenges to his legitimacy, and questionable origins that ultimately ensue in the undermining of the support from his subordinates, and the extent of his authority.
Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney. p.37-80. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume A The Middle Ages 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.
Lord Tennyson, Alfred. “Idylls of the King.” Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume E The Victorian Age. New York: NY, 2012. Print.