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Foils: Beowulf and Unferth
Transcript of Foils: Beowulf and Unferth
Quotes and Analysis
Table of Contents
Beowulf: An Epic Poem
Unferth: The Sinner
Beowulf: Our Epic Hero
What is a Foil
Quotes and Their Analysis
The Biblical Story of Cain and Able
In the Beowulf and Unferth foil, By the use of dialogue, diction, and allusions, Beowulf is characterized as an epic hero, while Unferth is characterized as a sinner and a failure, in order to secure Beowulf’s position as hero and foreshadow that Beowulf might earn a higher position in the kingdom of the Danes.
“Unferth, a son of Ecglaf’s, spoke contrary words. Beowulf’s coming made him sick with envy: he could not brook or abide the fact that anyone else alive under heaven might enjoy greater regard than he did” (ll. 500-505).
Let's Link this to the Bible:
Proverbs 14:30 (KJV): A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones.
This quote shows how, in Christianity, envy is a deadly sin, and if someone possesses one of these, they are one step closer to Hell. This is interpreted as a Christian reference.
“Are you the Beowulf who took on Breca in a swimming match on the open sea, risking the water just to prove that you could win? It was sheer vanity made you venture out on the main deep…the sea-test obsessed you” (ll. 506-512).
Unferth is accusing Beowulf of possessing "vanity" or having an ago, which is considered another deadly sin, and presents him as an adventure fanatic.
In the foil between Beowulf and Unferth, Beowulf showed that he is a Godly figure, strong and skilled fighter, brave, in comparison to Unferth who is a sinner, because he envies Beowulf, lies, and is Cain-like, and he portrays a failure because he does not have any stories of him in a battle. This foil makes the audience and the readers more optimistic about Beowulf as an epic hero and foreshadows his success in the kingdom of the Danes. l
"Bible Verses on Lying | What Does the Bible Say About Lying?" ♥. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr. 2014.
"Cain and Abel." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Apr. 2014. Web. 19 Apr. 2014.
Shmoop Editorial Team. "Foil in Beowulf." Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 19 Apr. 2014.
Beowulf: An Epic Poem
The oldest surviving poem in the English language. It was written in Old English, the language of the Saxons. Tells the tale of a Scandinavian hero who battles three evils: Grendel, Grendel's mother, and a dragon. This last confrontation, with the dragon, is deadly and he is mortally wounded
Beowulf: Epic Hero
Beowulf is an epic hero: a brave and noble character in an epic poem, admired for great achievements or affected by grand events. Beowulf is a prince of the Geats of southern Sweden who comes to Denmark to help King Hrothgar rid his fabulous hall, Heorot, of a terrible monster known as Grendel.
Unferth: The Sinner
Unferth, Hrothgar's "right hand man," is presented as a lesser man beside Beowulf. His bitterness clearly reflects his jealousy of the attention Beowulf receives. Upon Beowulf's arrival, he accuses of Beowulf of being an unskilled fighter, as we will soon see.
What is a Foil?
A foil is a character whose traits contrast with and thereby accentuate those of another character? For example, Unferth and Beowulf, as I will be examining today.
Activity: Each group will make a list of foils from stories we have learned this year.
The fact that he spoke "contrary" words shows how jealous he is. The words "alive," "under heaven," and "greater" represent exaggeration of size, showing how big and strong Unferth's envy is.
Sinner, Unskilled Fighter vs. Hero, Skilled Fighter
“You waded in…but you vied for seven nights; and then he outswam you, came ashore the stronger contender” (ll. 513-518).
"Waded in" gives Beowulf a Godly feature as Jesus waded in the water, but nevertheless, Unferth is implying that Beowulf struggled in the fight, and Unferth is attempting to make Beowulf look less of a hero. He's trying to elevate himself by putting Beowulf down
“Well, friend Unferth, you have had your say about Breca and me. But it was mostly beer that was doing the talking. The truth is this…” (ll. 530-532).
Beowulf uses "my friend" instead of insulting him. This shows that Beowulf is too noble to stoop down to Unferth's level. Additionally, Beowulf is accusing him of being a liar, another trait looked down upon in Christianity.
Link to the Bible:
Psalms 52:2-4, "Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. Thou lovest evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness. Selah. Thou lovest all devouring words, O thou deceitful tongue."
“However it occurred, my sword had killed nine sea-monsters…now I cannot recall any fight you entered, Unferth, that bears comparison” (ll. 581-583).
This shows Unferth as a failure, because he has no heroic stories of his own, and in Anglo-Saxon society, this is one of the most important parts of a man's reputation
Cain and Abel
"Killed your own kin and kin...you will suffer damnation in the depths of hell" (ll.587-589).
Beowulf is comparing Unferth to Cain, evil itself. The fact that he "killed [his] own kith" shows that he is a Cain-like sinner
Link to the Bible
Genesis 4:8 - And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
The Story of Cain and Abel
Adam and Eve sent to Earth because they ate the forbidden fruit
They had two sons: Cain & Abel
Cain grew crops while Abel raised sheep
They both made offerings to God
Cain was envious of Abel's better offerings
Cain killed his brother, and was banished by God
Linking it to the Thesis
From Beowulf's conversation with Unferth, it is evident that not only is Unferth a jealous sinner, but he is compared to Cain, the original evil. (Grendel is a descent of Cain.)