Why is King Hrothgar a Flat Character in Beowulf?

The story begins in the King’s great mead hall. He has ordered its construction to celebrate his victory in a great battle. King Hrothgar is an old man. But he has lived an exhilarating life. So much so that he believes he must immortalize his achievements through a cultural norm, building a great feasting hall, Heorot. So why is King Hrothgar a flat character in Beowulf? Read on to find out.

 

A Take on Beowulf’s Central Thematic Actor

We meet King Hrothgar as he nears his death. He is an old man and has already lived his life. The depiction of King Hrothgar’s life is fascinating. He gained glory in battle and became the leader of the Danish people. From what we know about history, the Scandinavians were warriors and followed strong leaders. King Hrothgar’s followers grew immensely.

 

The Mead Hall

The Beowulf Poet claims that artisans came from far and wide, and many tribes worked on King Hrothgar’s dream to build a great mead hall. He shares this structure with his people in typical Danish fashion, showing hospitality as their culture demands.

 

King Hrothgar does not deviate from his promise to share his hall. He invites people to Heorot, holding feasts and giving out gold rings and other gifts. It is a merry place. The King kept his promise. This is what differentiates King Hrothgar from a round character. He is predictable and does not go off script, so to say.

 

Beowulf, The Unchallenged Hero

Beowulf’s story involves the development of the young prince’s life until he assumes the Danish throne. Hrothgar bequeaths Beowulf his kingdom since he is old and believes the young prince can lead his people honorably. This also shows the flat nature of his character. He is noble and recognizes Beowulf’s help to his people.

 

King Hrothgar does not develop in Beowulf; instead, we see him delegating tasks to Beowulf. He first allows Grendel to ravage his citizens for twelve years without mentioning his involvement in his creation. King Hrothgar then gives Beowulf the task of defending his kingdom while he decides to commit suicide.

 

Hidden in The Past

We do not learn many aspects of King Hrothgar’s life to judge him. He commits various actions that later hurt his people, as his successor did. They both slept with Grendel’s mother and gave birth to monsters. However, King Hrothgar hides his sin while Beowulf confronts his. He does not sacrifice or show any profound actions that help him grow as a character.

 

However, as we have previously noted, King Hrothgar enters the story late in his life. His glory days are behind him. Hrothgar has already lived. He is not a complicated character and has reached maturity. We can assume this is why he does not change throughout the plot. The only complication in King Hrothgar’s life is that he does not have a successor, a problem that is not directly related to his attributes.

 

Predictable Nature

King Hrothgar appears as a flat character since he does not develop or change over the story’s course. From beginning to end, we see him treating different characters, such as Beowulf, Grendel, and Grendel’s mother, similarly. He is a good, hospitable, and generous king. But he is also cowardly and weak when confronted by evil. He cannot protect his people from Grendel and chooses to offer them material wealth as a reward for bravery and loyalty. This makes him static throughout the story.

 

We can say that King Hrothgar’s flatness stems from his negligence of personal well-being. He dismisses traditional methods of self-care and healing, allowing his body and mind to fall into a state of despair. This renders him incapable of dealing with threats to his kingdom as he did in his youth. 

King Hrothgar is a flat character in Beowulf because he allows himself to become so. His earlier exploits would make for a good read. Sadly, we cannot recreate the masterpiece that is Beowulf.

 

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