Although Beowulf is under no obligation to do so, he demonstrates his loyalty to Hrothgar by willingly fighting to the death in order to defend the Danes against the evil monster Grendel. Winning victoriously, Beowulf proudly displays Grendel's shoulder and arm by hanging it from Heorot's rafters for everyone to see. This trophy with "Every nail, claw-scale and spur, every spike and welt... like barbed steel," (lines 983-986) symbolizes the evil that has threatened the harmony of Hrothgar's retainers from being able to protect Heorot and their lord. When Hrothgar gazes upon Grendel's talon, when he praises Beowulf as the "flower of manhood" (942), and when he adopts Beowulf as his own son, the reader senses the importance of this symbol reflecting the interdependence necessary for survival in an Anglo-Saxon society.
Hrothgar's loyalty to Beowulf is symbolized by the abundant gifts with which he rewards the young hero.
By rewarding him with "a wealth of wrought gold... two arm bangles, a mail-shirt and rings," (1192) Hrothgar shows the extent that he values Beowulf's actions as well as the amount of dependence that he places upon Beowulf to protect Heorot, his people, and himself. The golden torque that is presented to Beowulf at the banquet following his extraordinary defeat of Grendel is "The most resplendent torque of gold" (1194) and its meaning as a symbolic object deepens in that it was worn by Hygelac "on his last raid," (1203), thus showing the ongoing dependence upon the loyalty of kings to brave heroes as a means of protecting their kingdom.
When, much later in life, Beowulf faces the dragon in the battle that is to be his end, all of his men defending the country alongside him flee when the outcome appears to turn in favor of the dragon. All...