Beowulf

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Unferth Character Analysis

A Dane, the son of Ecglaf, and a follower of Hrothgar. Unferth is presented as contrast to Beowulf, providing a glimpse of a poor warrior in contrast to Beowulf's good warrior. Unferth is boastful, just as Beowulf is, but unlike Beowulf Unferth lacks the moral courage to back up his boasts (and unlike Beowulf Unferth never does anything to stand against Grendel). Further, Unferth appears to be jealous of Beowulf and never responds to Beowulf's taunt that Unferth once killed his own brother, which could signal either Unferth's incompetence or some sort of moral failing. Unferth does become more generous after Beowulf defeats Grendel, and lends Beowulf his family sword to fight Grendel's mother.
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Unferth Character Timeline in Beowulf

The timeline below shows where the character Unferth appears in Beowulf. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
A Feast at Heorot (Lines 491–701)
Family and Tribe Theme Icon
Fame, Pride, and Shame Theme Icon
The Geats and Danes feast in Heorot. But Unferth, the son of Ecglaf, jealously taunts Beowulf. According to Unferth, as young men Beowulf and... (full context)
Good Warriors and Good Kings Theme Icon
Fame, Pride, and Shame Theme Icon
Christianity and Paganism Theme Icon
Beowulf replies that Unferth is drunk, and tells his version of the story: as youths, he and Breca did... (full context)
Family and Tribe Theme Icon
Good Warriors and Good Kings Theme Icon
Fame, Pride, and Shame Theme Icon
Repetition and Change Theme Icon
Beowulf adds that he killed nine sea-monsters in all. He says has not heard that Unferth has done so much, though he has heard that Unferth killed his own brother. Beowulf... (full context)
A Second Fight (Lines 1408–1639)
Good Warriors and Good Kings Theme Icon
Fame, Pride, and Shame Theme Icon
Repetition and Change Theme Icon
Beowulf, completely without fear of death, puts on his armor and grasps his weapons. Unferth lends Beowulf Hrunting, a sword that has never failed and has been passed down in... (full context)
New Celebration (Lines 1640–1912)
Family and Tribe Theme Icon
Christianity and Paganism Theme Icon
In the morning Beowulf returns the sword Hrunting to Unferth, and thanks him for the loan even though the sword failed. (full context)