The classic epic poem Beowulf is strongly centered on a theme of loyalty. Given that the historic setting and milieu of the epic, it is understandable why this particular quality of human affairs was given centre stage. The author portrays a heroic image of the protagonist, who fearlessly fights enemies in order to save his master Hrothgar and his country’s subjects. At a time when the Anglo-Saxon dominions were in perennial rife and warfare, this display of devotion and loyalty to one’s master is all the more glorious. For example, the fifth century to eleventh century A.D. when this epic poem was set, referred to by historians as the Early English period, was of much historical significance in terms of its relevance to the uniqueness and vibrancy of the Anglo-Saxon cultural evolution during the subsequent centuries. In this context, the study of Beowulf and the associated notions of loyalty and heroism is quite essential in understanding the English cultural heritage. The following passages will explore this theme further.
In addition to this extraordinary exhibition of valor on part of Beowulf, the poem is also a narrative of the underlying codes of conduct and loyalty in the primitive Anglo-Saxon society of the time. While a high standard of honorable existence is expected from the Kings and Nobles, it is only a few men of exceptional courage who actually live up to those ideals. Beowulf is obvious one of the select few, as is made evident from his brave conquering of Grendel, as well as his fearless combat with the dragon. Beowulf is also portrayed as possessing other finer qualities, such as discretion and generosity.
Beowulf displays unquestioning allegiance not only to Hrothgar, but also to his King Hygelac. In a statement of the rich Anglo-Saxon cultural tradition, Beowulf is shown to be faithful to the commoners and citizens as well. The author tries to portray the epitome of an Anglo-Saxon warrior in the form of Beowulf. The other aspect of the Anglo-Saxon culture that is brought forth in the epic is a disposition toward deterministic and fatalistic currents of thought among the civil society of the time. This is manifest all the more clearly in the battles that Beowulf wages against his adversaries. The classic example of this takes the form of Beowulf’s combats with Grendel and then the dragon later in time.
At the time of writing this epic poem, the qualities that were understood to define the heroic in man were bravery, courage and steadfast loyalty. A hero is someone who is worthy of his status in society, someone whom the citizens look up to and try to emulate. It is an understatement to say that the character of Beowulf epitomized all the above mentioned heroic qualities. For instance, his fearless act in response to a threat to Hrothgar, as well as his fight with the mighty monster Grendel are too very good examples of the Anglo-Saxon heroic embodiment that Beowulf was.
In a similar vein, the poem also gives a glimpse of the qualities expected of an ideal king. It tries to portray a virtuous king as someone whose actions are grounded on ethics and a sense of justice. As much as the central character Beowulf himself, the King is also a prime example of the valorous Anglo-Saxon tradition. His actions and decisions are based on this strong moral foundation, thereby setting an example for his loyal warriors and common subjects alike. Also, Beowulf himself conducts his affairs worthy of his king’s high moral standards. Through this exemplary conduct, Beowulf and his king win over the trust and admiration of the people under their command.