In Beowulf, Unferth represents the issue of envy and provides a glimpse of a poor warrior.
Unferth is the son of Ecglaf and a warrior of Spear Danes. He is a follower of Hrothgar and a foil character of Beowulf. When Beowulf comes to Hrothgar to help the Danes, Unferth is made “sick with envy” and he can not stand that ‘anyone else alive under heaven might enjoy greater regard than he.” So he is intrigued by envy which is one of the seven deadly sins. Moreover, he is also a brother killer and coward. In Anglo-saxon time this kind of betrayal like killing one’s brother or family member is considered as the most heinous crime. His story thus becomes similar to the story of Cain and Abel , a biblical allusion, where Cain had killed his brother Abel out of jealousy and he became lord’s outcast. Moreover, Unferth never reacts to Beowulf’s jeer of killing his own brother which clearly shows his moral decency.

The etymology of Unferth’s name is another object of discussion. ‘Un’ is a negative prefix and the meaning of the word is not-peace which means Unferth’s role as a troublemaker in the story. Boasting is a part of Anglo-saxon warrior culture but it must be bestowed with truth. Unferth is boastful like Beowulf. But there is a difference between them because Unferth has a lack of moral courage and his boasts are not fully true. Unferth mentions a notable incident or notable digression of swimming competition between Beowulf and Breca and he challenges Beowulf’s honor by claiming that Beowulf had lost to Breca in that competition. But when the venturesome hero Beowulf explains all the details, it helps to unlock some heroic stories of Beowulf. Unferth’s jealousy results from a shame for being unable to save his own people from Grendel’s attack. According to Beowulf, Unferth is not ‘as keen and courageous’ as he claims to be. In addition, when Grendel’s mother attacks the kingdom after Grendel’s death, the anonymous writer mocks Unferth as he is ‘not man enough’ to face her. He is a foil character of Beowulf. But after Beowulf has won the battle against Grendel, Unferth’s change of character is notable. He becomes generous and bounteous towards Beowulf and provides him his sword named “Hrunting” to fight against Grendel’s mother. But his sword fails to work on her body which proves that his sword is as useless as him in the text.

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