The Finally

In the story Beowulf, Beowulf is a character who is idealized for his achievements and his bravery. He does not approve of praising others, being put down, or allowing others to help him.

In contrast, the noble King Arthur in Idylls of the King is a king who is idealized for his nobility, honour, and approval of his followers. Continually they are praised for their right doings, accepted for their wrong doings (such as Guinevere’s infidelity), and he rules the kingdom to teach his people morals.

It is ironic that Beowulf does not like having help in battle, whereas the King continually accepts help, but both pass-on with equal sorrow from their people and mention of their ‘greatness’. Why is this? And do we accept that they are equally as great (just in different ways)? Is it because of the time they were written? Is it even fair to compare two kings who have such opposite morals?



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

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

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3 Responses to The Finally

  1. jenniferbist says:

    I liked the questions you posed, about the differences between Beowulf and Arthur’s morals, and how even despite this, in the end both are viewed as ‘great’; it certainly makes on wonder why this is the case. I think that, though the characters each hold certain qualities which makes them unique, in the context of their own background/history, they each have a different sort of battle they have to face and that’s what separates them: Beowulf has to go alone to prove his worth as a hero, whereas Arthur has to deal with friendships, the dividing of people, and overcoming betrayals and loss.
    In terms of ‘greatness’, I noticed that while both hold this theme, with Arthur it’s a different sort of greatness than Beowulf. The times these stories were written probably has an influence, as you said. In Beowulf’s case, Christianity was still new and all that seemed to matter was being a ‘warrior’ and being ‘physically strong’–material things such as gold and treasure were the only marks of loyalty and trust. With King Arthur, and as Christianity becomes more apparent, strength is something entirely different and Arthur is more praised for his ability to bring people together and knighthood rather than for whatever battles he’s won or won not–material things do not account for friendship like they seem to do in Beowulf. Arthur takes on a sort of ‘hero’ that is very different from Beowulf in all regards, but because of the time-period and shift in ideals, the sort of ‘greatness’ that people admire changes as well. I suppose then, as you put it, perhaps it’s not ‘fair’ to contrast these two entirely based on that. Anyways, good topic and question.

    • stephaniestahl says:

      I just referenced this comment in another comment I posted, because I agree with your opinion that these differences can be related to time. There have been changes in values and in what people hope to see in others. I think that what made someone a king long ago may have been dominance and superiority. Overtime, people have been looking for the ability to relate with others. We search for similarities between us and those of higher status, in hopes of being able to understand them. This is what makes us so interested in the secret lives of celebrities and royalty, and we find it interesting when we see that we have more in common with them than what we thought when we see them participating in “everyday activities”. This is a value that people have now, and it has developed over time. This development has created changes in literature, as well, and the characters in stories have changed in order to accommodate this.

  2. nicolericher says:

    I like this angle – and I think you’re right, the “greatness” of these kings is due to the vastly different times in which they were written about. Medieval courtly virtues were emphasized for Arthur and his knights: generosity, love (fellowship), purity, courtesy, and pité (pity/piety). For upholding these virtues, in particular love/fellowship and courtesy, I believe King Arthur would be more respected by his people. The accepted wrong-doing of Guinevere is more forgiveness out of love, and asking for help is courteous to the loyal men whom he love and respects.
    In a fearful time such as Beowulf’s, where luxuries are not as abundant as would be for Arthur, bravery, honour and strength is admirable. These virtues can all be easily (if you’re a traveling, gruff, band member of Beowulf) accomplished one at a time in a band of men. If you’re Beowulf, who was striving for fame, then fighting for all of these admired virtues would be easier done by the questionable methods in which he undertook them: one-on-one with feared monsters. He saves the lives of an uncountable number of his men by saving them from the monster and from having to take part in a heated battle. This demonstrates his individual strength, honourable character, and undeniable bravery.
    After examining both kings and the virtues of their time… in which category do you suppose King Elessar would fall?

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