"Kindest to Kinfolk Yet Keenest for Fame"
858 Words4 Pages
Over the course of the poem, Beowulf transitions from a heroic warrior to a noble king. The last lines of the epic, "kindest to kinfolk yet keenest for fame" undoubtedly refers to the transitions of roles the main character undergoes, as well as the differing values and responsibilities accompanying each role. Time and again in the poem the major themes of what makes a good king and what makes a good hero are presented. As both a warrior and a king, Beowulf must reconcile the opposing values and duties of each position in society. This essay seeks to show that the final line of the epic relates to the whole poem in terms of the tension between the roles of hero and king.
In order to explain how the final lines relate to the tension of trying to reconcile the positions of hero and king, it is best to first examine the notions of hero and king. The notion of king can be summed up as, "kindest to kinfolk." In Beowulf, the ideal example of a king is Hrothgar. The first mention of Hrothgar describes him as having, "swiftness for battle and staunchness in strife,/ so friends and kinfolk followed him freely" (lines 59-60). This refers not only to the requirement that a king be an able-bodied, charismatic chieftain, but also someone who is a protector of his people, as Hrothgar is later called, "shelter of shield-bearers, friend to your folk" (line 383).
."..I shall award you whatever you wish/ that is mine to command" (lines 840-841). The generosity of a king is central to the king/warrior relationship; thus, another aspect of a good king is rewarding the loyal service of a thane, as Hrothgar does for Beowulf. Not only must a king provide his people with protection and sanctuary (the building of Heorot, accepting Beowulf...
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...r/ as Franks and Frisians learn how the king/ has fallen in combat" (lines 2563-2565) and "Full of this feud, this festering hatred,/ the Swedes, I am certain, will swiftly beset us,/ as soon as they learn our lord lies lifeless" (lines 2641-2643).
If old king Beowulf had truly sought to serve the needs of his people, rather than his own needs there would be no compelling story to tell. It is vital and logical that there exists a tension when trying to reconcile two vastly different roles. Quite appropriately, it makes Beowulf a more interesting character to relate to. Many readers experience the same tension in their own lives trying to reconcile the many opposing facets of their character. Though just like Beowulf, who was both "kindest to kinfolk yet keenest for fame" many readers must come to terms with a singular quality which overwhelms all else.