Loyalty in Beowulf

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  • 0:00 Chivalry in ''Beowulf''
  • 0:24 Beowulf Exemplifies Loyalty
  • 2:05 Loyalty in Battle
  • 2:47 Grendel's Mother
  • 3:17 Beowulf's Last Act
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

As a character, Beowulf is motivated more by loyalty than he is by fortune or honor. We will see how his loyalty serves him as we looks at this quality in a upstanding man.

Chivalry in Beowulf

Chivalry is the code of the medieval warrior, based on a set of rules that include honor, valor, courtesy, and, at the center of it all, loyalty. The warrior was loyal to his king, his fellow warriors, and the ones he loved. Beowulf is the definition of chivalry as we see in the epic poem, thought to have been written down around 1000 A.D.

Beowulf Exemplifies Loyalty

As leading characters go, you will not find one more loyal than Beowulf. Loyalty is at the root of each step he takes throughout his life. It guides him in his decision making and is one of his most upstanding traits.

When Beowulf comes to the aid of Hrothgar, it is because he feels a great sense of loyalty to the king because of his father. In their younger years, Beowulf's father, Ecgtheow, had needed assistance because of a feud, and Hrothgar had come to his aid. This set the stage for the familial loyalty Beowulf feels and his desire to help when Hrothgar is in need. Hrothgar remembers,

''Ecgtheow acknowledged me with oaths of allegiance.''

Beowulf is intending to do the same. It is important to him to do something to repay the debt he owes to Hrothgar because of his father.

When he speaks to Wealhtheow, Beowulf explains that he will fight Grendel, and he intends to defeat him, even if it means his own death. He is letting her know that he is loyal to the end. He says,

''And I shall fulfill that purpose, prove myself with a proud deed or meet my death here in the mead-hall.''

After the successful battle, during the feast to celebrate Beowulf's triumph and loyalty, Wealhtheow sits between Hrothgar and Beowulf. She has a request of Beowulf. She says,

''Treat my sons with tender care, be strong and kind. Here each comrade is true to the other, loyal to lord, loving in spirit.''

The importance of loyalty is critical in Anglo-Saxon society. It is one of the most important qualities a person can have. Wealhtheow is asking Beowulf to take care of her sons, to protect them when she cannot.

Loyalty in Battle

Beowulf shows his loyalty to Hrothgar when he agrees to help him rid the castle of the monster, Grendel, who has been terrorizing the mead hall for the past twelve years.

''For twelve winters, seasons of woe, the lord of the Shieldings suffered under his load of sorrow''

The misery caused by Grendel has caused warriors to leave the hall, but Beowulf is determined to show his loyalty by killing the monster. He convinces his men to stay in the mead hall with him and await the monster. His men remain with him out of a sense of loyalty. When in the heat of the battle with Grendel, Beowulf tells his men to stay back. He tells them that he alone will fight the monster. He does this out of loyalty to Hrothgar and to the safety of his men.

Grendel's Mother

When Grendel's mother attacks the hall in revenge for her son's death, Beowulf makes it known that he will fight the monster. He then makes out what amounts to his last will and testament. He asks that his men, who have been loyal and brave be taken care of if he is killed. He says,

''be guardian of my young retainers, my companions, if battle should take me.''

His final request is that all of his treasures be sent back to his home. He wants his king to know that he was rewarded for his loyalty and bravery.

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