The Reigns of Kings in Beowulf

Beowulf opens with the story of the ancient king, Shield Sheafson, in order to establish a discussion on kingship, and to begin building a definition of what constitutes a "good king". Once this definition has been established, the text uses it to evaluate the other European kings in the tale, especially Hrothgar and Beowulf. This exploration of European kingship eventually leads the modern reader to a discourse on the reign of the "High King of the World" (182), God. Because the text presents the reader with tales of God's reign, in the same way it tells of Hrothgar's and Beowulf's reign, while simultaneously providing the reader with a definition of good kingship, it invites the reader to evaluate God's rule. The text provides its reader with an opportunity to question the limits of God's kingship, as well as to evaluate His relation to His subjects, mankind.

Initially, the text focuses on its definition of what attributes and behaviors a fit monarch must have. According to the text, Shield Sheafson qualifies as "one good king" (11) because he "rampage[s] against foes" (5), "father[s] a famous son" (18), receives obedience when he lays "down the law...

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