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Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf

Having a good and noble king is vital to the succession and happiness of a group of people. Unfortunately, not all kings are good kings, but the welfare of their people reflects on their ability to do the job. Having a foreign or pariah king will cause the people’s welfare to suffer, but when a group of people has an excellent king, they will remain joyful and prosperous until the day he dies. If the reign of a king causes feud, then this would not have a positive effect on the group of people under his reign.

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In Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, Hrothgar, king of Denmark, considers giving his kingship to Beowulf, the Geat warrior who came to Denmark in order to defeat Grendel, who is the devilish monster attacking the Danes, as a service to King Hrothgar. When Queen Wealtheow, King Hrothgar’s wife, hears of this, she says to him, “The word is that you want to adopt this warrior as a son. So, while you bask in your fortune, and then bequeath kingdom and nation to your kith and kin before decease. I am sure of Hrothulf” (183. 1175-9).

By saying this, she is warning her husband about what problems may arise if he were to give his kingship to a foreigner. She then reminds Hrothgar of Hrothulf’s distinguished traits and that he is also stripping his own sons of their rights to kingship if he goes through with handing the throne over to Beowulf. Wealtheow is most likely worried about Beowulf just simply conquering their people for Geatland, the people not liking his foreign methods, she obviously does not want to take kingship rights from her beloved relatives whom she considers worthy of the role, and does not want to see friction occur between Beowulf and their kin.

Wealtheow knows that allowing a foreigner to take over the throne of Denmark will cause the welfare of the Danes to suffer. When a king goes bad, his people lose respect in him, are no longer content and successful as a people, and are likely to rebel against him. Hrothgar says to Beowulf, “Do not give way to pride”(121. 1760). He is explaining to Beowulf that excessive pride is a king’s worst enemy.

The downfall of kings usually occurs because even though they may be gracious at the beginning of their reign, after multiple conquests, they become overpowered by their pride, and it leads them astray from their former beliefs and positive traits. This happens with a former king of the Danes by the name of Heremod. Heremod is capable of being a great king and leading a life filled with happiness, but his excessive pride causes him to kill his own comrades and no longer give rings to honor the Danes, therefore draining the happiness from his own life and the lives of his people.

He also becomes a pariah king, which means he is an outcast, as a result of his wicked deeds. As kings make more and more mistakes, the welfare of their people continues to grow worse. When a king has the qualities that make him good, it will bring nothing but positive aspects to the lives of his group of people while their noble king is still living. Hrothgar informs Beowulf of these sought after qualities by saying, “A protector of his people, pledged to uphold truth and justice and respect tradition, is entitled to affirm that this man was born with distinction”(117. 00-3).

Throughout his entire reign over Geatland, Beowulf never loses any of these desirable qualities. This causes the Geats to be very blissful and triumphant as a people. Unfortunately, when other groups of people hear about the sudden death of a king as noble as Beowulf, they are likely to attack and try to take over Geatland because the loss of King Beowulf makes it become extremely vulnerable to invasions.

Though Beowulf’s death is unfortunate, while he is still alive his people lead jubilant lives free of much worry or stress because he is such an excellent king. A place containing a noble king under the throne is a very desirable place to live because his people will have lives filled with cheer and bliss. Kings’ abilities at doing their job definitely reflect on the welfare of the people that they reign over. Beowulf benefits the people of the world by showing an excellent example for kings everywhere.

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