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Hester van Maanen 3960552

Frits Coerslaan 48
3571 AR Utrecht
Introduction Old and Middle English
British English
18 December 2012
610 words

Positive and Negative Forces in Beowulf
Beowulf is one of the best known and most studied Old-English poems ever written. Beowulf
has its popularity mainly to thank to the themes in the poem, themes that are still relevant
today. It is not only the themes though, that make the poem so interesting, it is also the
characters. Many of the characters have more depth than you would initially think. Wiglaf and
Unferth are examples of such characters; they are usually depicted as positive versus negative.
There is more to these characters than just that. Wiglaf and Unferth do not simply represent
positive and negative forces in Beowulf.
Wiglaf has a small, yet important part in the poem. He is one of the warriors who
accompany Beowulf to his fight with the dragon. When the fight does not go well, all the
warriors flee except for Wiglaf. Wiglaf is the perfect example of what a good warrior should
be like. He is loyal to his lord and willing to lay down his life to protect Beowulf. Wiglaf
shows responsibility and a will to protect the fate of the nation. Wiglaf values honour most of
all: death is better / for all men than a life of dishonour (290-291). These are all positive
characteristics. Wiglaf seems to do everything right and have every quality a warrior should
have. Wiglaf, who becomes king after Beowulf, is not able to protect the country after
Beowulfs death. It seems that this is because of the warriors cowardice in the dragon-fight.
This shows weakness to other nations. However, Wiglaf reprimands the warriors and should
be able to lead his people into battle. He also blames it on Beowulfs death: he himself did
not know / through what his parting from this world must bring about (3067-3068). Wiglaf
does not have the same control over the warriors and the people as Beowulf had. Other
nations see this and Wiglaf is doomed. This proves that though Wiglaf is a good man and the
odds are against him, his role in this poem is not merely positive.
Unferth is a man who belongs to King Hrothgar. He first appears in the poem in the

mead hall Heorot when Beowulf arrives. Unferth insults Beowulf. With this he is not
hospitable, as he is supposed to be. Beowulfs reply to Unferths insults shows that Unferth
boasts without ever having lived up to this. Another code he breaks. Unferth is envious of
Beowulf for living up to the boasts he dare not live up to.
--for him was the venture of Beowulf,
brave seafarer's, a source of great displeasure,
because he did not grant that any other man
ever glorious deeds the more on middle-earth
heeded under the heavens than he himself(501-505)
According to the poem Unferth killed his own brothers. This fratricide is a despicable thing to
do, since loyalty is very important and Unferth has clearly not been loyal to his family. All
these negative traits suggest that Unferth indeed represents negativity in the poem. However,
Unferth changes during the poem. When Beowulf sets out to kill Grendels mother, Unferth
finally admits that Beowulf is the better man of the two. Unferth even loans Beowulf his
beloved sword, Hrunting. This shows that Unferth has grown for the better. He is not just the
representation of a negative force.
Wiglaf mainly represents a positive force in Beowulf and Unferth mainly represents a
negative force. Wiglaf is the ideal warrior, loyal, responsible and has the interest of the nation
at heart. In the end he is not able to reign as well as Beowulf though, and the nation falls
under his command. Unferth is inhospitable, rude, envious and he has killed his own brothers.
He seems to be a negative force. In the end Unferth changes and supports Beowulf and shows
that he does gain some positive traits. In conclusion, though Wiglaf is a very good man and
for the bigger part a positive force he does have his flaws. Unferth who seems to be a very
negative person turns out to have some positive traits.

Works Cited
Beowulf. The Norton Anthology of English Literature vol. 1. New York, NY: W.W. Norton
& Company, 2006. 41. Print.


De Universiteit Utrecht definieert het verschijnsel plagiaat als volgt:
Van plagiaat is sprake bij het in een scriptie of ander werkstuk gegevens of tekstgedeelten van
anderen overnemen zonder bronvermelding. Onder plagiaat valt onder meer:
het knippen en plakken van tekst van digitale bronnen zoals encyclopedien of digitale
tijdschriften zonder aanhalingstekens en verwijzing; het knippen en plakken van teksten van
het internet zonder aanhalingstekens en verwijzing;
het overnemen van gedrukt materiaal zoals boeken, tijdschriften of encyclopedien zonder
aanhalingstekens of verwijzing;
het opnemen van een vertaling van bovengenoemde teksten zonder aanhalingstekens en
het parafraseren van bovengenoemde teksten zonder verwijzing. Een parafrase mag nooit
bestaan uit louter vervangen van enkele woorden door synoniemen;
het overnemen van beeld-, geluids- of testmateriaal van anderen zonder verwijzing en
zodoende laten doorgaan voor eigen werk;
het overnemen van werk van andere studenten en dit laten doorgaan voor eigen werk. Indien
dit gebeurt met toestemming van de andere student is de laatste medeplichtig aan plagiaat;
ook wanneer in een gezamenlijk werkstuk door een van de auteurs plagiaat wordt gepleegd,
zijn de andere auteurs medeplichtig aan plagiaat, indien zij hadden kunnen of moeten weten
dat de ander plagiaat pleegde;
het indienen van werkstukken die verworven zijn van een commercile instelling (zoals een
internetsite met uittreksels of papers) of die tegen betaling door iemand anders zijn
Ik heb de bovenstaande definitie van het verschijnsel plagiaat zorgvuldig gelezen, en
verklaar hierbij dat ik mij in het aangehechte essay / werkstuk niet schuldig heb gemaakt aan

Naam: Hester van Maanen

Studentnummer: 3960552

Plaats: Rijssen

Datum: 22 September 2012