As a heroic-elegiac poem, Beowulf begins with an example of a bad king to contrast him with a good king. Shield Sheafson who was not a good king because he demanded that clans far and wide pay homage to him. He destroyed mead halls and rampaged through the countryside. He was selfish and cruel. His heir, Beow, would be the antithesis of his father. He would be a blessing to the Danes. Beow would be known for his generosity which garnered him loyal followers. Beow was the grandfather of Hrothgar. Hrothgar was loyal, courageous, generous and protective of his kingdom.
Hrothgar was a good king like his father and grandfather before him. He would decide to build a mead hall where he could share his treasures and good fortune with his people, a place where they could feast and rejoice. These events described here prove that, in fact, Beowulf is a heroic poem. The mead hall, Heorot, would only be a safe haven for a short while. The hall would come under attack. Grendel, a monster, would be annoyed by the sounds of gaiety day in and day out. Grendel would begin to terrorize the hall murdering many before the would be abandoned due to fear. Hrothgar kingdom was gripped in terror.
Beowulf heard of Hrothgar’s plight and decided he needed his help. Beowulf was known to have the strength of thirty men in each arm. He would travel to Hrothgar’s kingdom to volunteer to be their defender against Grendel. He demonstrated selflessness, courage and generosity for the people of another land. All these are attributes of a good king and hero as shown in the poem. The transitory state of human relationships is shown in the repeated conquests of Beowulf. Beowulf killed Grendel and then he would have to kill Grendel’s mother who was seeking revenge for her child’s death.
He was rewarded many times over by Hrothgar and he shared his good fortune with his men. Hrothgar offered him the throne. Beowulf declined in deference to the rightful heirs. Beowulf, eventually, becomes the king of the Geats. “He ruled (it) well for fifty winters, grew old and wise as warden of the land. ” He is tested for a final time. His kingdom is threatened by a dragon. Beowulf challenges the dragon alone and he is mortally wounded. Wiglaf was the only warrior to remain by his side. Wiglaf stated, “Anyone ready to admit the truth will surely realize that the lord of men who showered you with gifts and gave you he armor you are standing in---when he would distribute helmets and mail-shirts to men on the mead-benches, a prince treating his thanes in the hall to the best he could find, far or near---was throwing weapons uselessly away. It would be a sad waste when the war broke out. Beowulf had little cause to brag about his armed guard; yet God who ordains who wins or loses allowed him to strike with his own blade when bravery was needed. There was little I could do to protect his life in the heat of the fray, but I found new strength welling up when I went to help him.
Then my sword connected and the deadly assaults of our foe grew weaker, the fire coursed less strongly from his head. But when the worst happened too few rallied around the prince. So it is good-bye now to all you know and love on your home ground, the open-handedness, the giving of war- swords. Every one of you with freehold of land, our whole nation, will be dispossessed, once princes from beyond get tidings of how you turned and fled and disgraced yourselves. A warrior will sooner die than live a life of shame. ” This excerpt from the poem shows the transitory state of human relationships proving Beowulf is an elegiac poem.