Heather MonkmanDoes Beowulf evoke a human element that allows the reader to associate with the plot? If so, then how does such humanity affect the story? There is a human element in Beowulf that transcends time. It is a portrayal of emotions common to the human experience of life that allow Beowulf to evoke a response from all. The human element within the epic story of Beowulf is characterized by Hrothgar.
Hrothgar is the most human character in the poem. He is the person with whom we can most easily identify. By not being afraid to hide his emotions in a society where it is a sign of weakness for a man to show his feelings, gives him perhaps not a heroic quality of his own, but a quality nonetheless - the quality of human nature. The virtues of a good warrior are wisdom and courage. A good king must possess not only these qualities, but he also must be concerned for the welfare of his people.
Hrothgar possesses wisdom, but his courage is lacking. However upon closer inspection of the prose, one begins to see Hrothgar not as a coward, but as a symbol of basic human reaction. For example, when Grendel attacks the hall, all Hrothgar can do is hold his head in despair. While others react in violence when threatened, Hrothgar lacks the strength to do so.
Although it is not a celebrated virtue of human nature, all can relate to the feeling of despair that arises when a positive solution to a negative situation is beyond one's immediate control / In another situation, after Grendel's mother attacks the hall and escapes with the body of Esher, we see Hrothgar trembling 'in anger and grief'. When Beowulf comes to find out what's wrong, Hrothgar practically begs him to kill the monster. His grief, at this point, verges on hysteria. This point in the epic allows the readers to bring the story back to something that they can relate to, a focal point. By being able to tap into the feelings expressed by Hrothgar, one can truly understand how helpless this once strong king must feel. The emotions of Hrothgar also allow the reader to compare him to Beowulf who shuns such emotional outbursts and who isn't wise enough to realize his shortcomings due to age.
Instead of admitting that he is too old to protect his country, Beowulf attempts to relive his youth by fighting the dragon. The contradiction between the two kings is a contradiction of emotions and of self-worth - two concepts that are basic to the human experience. Hrothgar's strongest moment occurs after the battle between Beowulf and Grendel's mother. He delivers a sermon to Beowulf on the evils of pride, advising Beowulf to guard against wickedness and to use his powers for the betterment of other people. He cites the example of Her mod, a king who might have performed great acts of courage, but who instead abused his potential and brought only destruction and slaughter to his people.
He warns Beowulf against thinking that just because he's defeated Grendel and Grendel's mother, he has rid the world of evil forever. Death will come to everyone, even those blessed by God, he warns, before you know it, all your strength and power are gone. The reader along with Beowulf may not believe Hrothgar at this moment in the story, but it lies as a testament to the fall of Beowulf's reign. Hrothgar's most emotional scene occurs just before Beowulf and his men are ready to depart from Denmark (Verse 26). Beowulf offers to come to Hrothgar's assistance when and if he ever needs it and Hrothgar predicts that one day Beowulf will be king of the Greats. Their relationship is more like father and son than king and warrior.
Hrothgar realizes that he " ll probably never see the young warrior again. He embraces and kisses him, bursting into tears. Although it is shocking to realize that a great king such as Hrothgar can be reduced to a mere man, the emotional outburst serves just that purpose. A king is merely a man. And a man must sometimes succumb to his emotions in order to realize his weaknesses and his strengths. Perhaps Hrothgar is not only the symbol of human emotions in this story, but he is also the symbol of the "other path" that Beowulf could have chosen instead of choosing violence.
Hrothgar, by displaying emotions and weaknesses, is the model against whom all the other kings and warriors in the poem must be compared..