While both Beowulf and Arthur do have their similarities, I noticed an interesting difference. I noticed how the two kings behaved during their final moments and the opposite relationships they have with their people. Beowulf, as you can recall, is deemed a fierce warrior and ultimate hero. It is through these titles and reputation that Beowulf is eventually bestowed the title of king. Arthur on the other hand is questioned by his people and is generally disliked from the get go. His people do not consider him legitimate and therefore struggle to trust in a king who may not even be the rightful heir to the throne. Beowulf and Arthur may both be kings, but the people they govern take to them very differently. What I noticed was this difference continues and is evident right until the final moments of the two kings.
Beowulf, for example, acknowledges that fighting the dragon in order to save his people “would be hard to survive unscathed near the hoard, to hold firm against the dragon in those flaming depths” (95), yet he very rashly goes off to fight the dragon thereby leaving his people to fend for themselves if he dies. He is fully aware he will probably die in the battle, yet goes anyway. Some could argue that it is the heroic warrior in him, but it seems to be an easy escape. A cover up in which the king tried as a last effort to nobly protect his people, when in fact he seems to accept his defeat and accept that his reign as king is over. This way he still looks like the hero and is positively remembered. What better way to die than in battle, right?
Arthur dies in a similar fashion, however his death is spontaneous not anticipated like Beowulf’s. Additionally, Arthur instructs Sir Bedivere to throw away his sword and thereby forgetting his legacy. This parallels Beowulf in the sense that it was vital to Beowulf to be remembered as a heroic king. It is Sir Bedivere that believes Arthur should be remembered. Arthur knows his people do not fully support him, yet I believe he understands the role of a king more than Beowulf does, making the two of them different in the end. Despite the fact that Arthur does not have the full support of his people, he still acts like a king, protecting and fighting for them. He acknowledges that a “king who fights his people fights himself” (1250), proving he understands the responsibilities of his title. He still has the obligation to care for his people even if they do not fully care for him. Beowulf in contrast swiftly abandons his people revealing that he does not possess all the qualities that make up a good king.
In summary, what I wanted to highlight what the contrast in how the two kings act in their final moments. Arthur dies nobly, despite the fact that he is generally disliked. Beowulf jumps the gun to end his life, yet is adored and admired by his people. In the end, Arthur makes a better king due to the fact that he, up to the end cares for his people, whereas Beowulf abandons his people, which is not very noble for a king.
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.