Beowulf: Comparing Beowulf and Wiglaf

In the literary work of Beowulf, it is imperative to analyze the relationships between characters and how those relationships function to create new meaning or a better understanding of the literature as a whole. In Beowulf, it can be said that the characters of Beowulf and Wiglaf share parallels that serve to show Wiglaf as becoming the next king, and not only the successor of the throne, but a sign of hope for the doomed society of the Geats.

These similarities can be recognized especially well through the Anglo Saxon beliefs of what makes an exceptional warrior, as well as certain language chosen when describing the two characters. Furthermore, the two characters mirror each other in motifs of the story such as the father and son aspect, the coming of age to become king motif, and the importance of kinsmen in the society. 

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First, both the characters prove that they are, indeed, true Anglo Saxon warriors, both upholding and maintaining the values, qualities, and characteristics required of a thane by their society. They display loyalty in their gratitude to their gold giver, bravery in their reactions to dire situations, strength and skill with weaponry in their battles, and generosity. The characters ' loyalty is of no question in this text. Beowulf, before he wrestles with Grendel 's mother, makes sure that in the instance of his death all of his bounty will be bequeathed to his lord to show his appreciation of the lord 's generosity.

He orders Hrothgar to "send Hygelac the treasures I received" and "let the Lord of the Geats gaze on that gold,…and see that I found a ring-giver of rare maginificence and enjoyed the good of his generosity" (P. 66). Furthermore, after Beowulf returns to his lord, he bequeaths the treasure to him and states, "It is still upon your grace that all favor depends. I have few kinsmen who are close, my king, except for your kind self" (P. 79).

Wiglaf shows this same type of loyalty to Beowulf in later sections of the story when he comes to arms to assist Beowulf against the dragon and when he delivers the dragon 's gold to his lord 's side. When Wiglaf "saw his lord tormented by the heat of his scalding helmet, he remembered the bountiful gifts bestowed upon him, how well he lived among the Waegmundings," and "could not hold back" (P. 88). As Wiglaf calls to action his comrades, he states that all the thanes "pledged their loyalty to our lord in the hall, promised our ring-giver we would be worth our price, make good the gift of the war-gear, those swords and helmets, as and when his need required it" (P. 89).

Wiglaf also follows the idea of bequeathing the treasure to his ring-giver when he leaves the dying Beowulf to collect the dragon 's treasure in hopes of giving that treasure to his lord. The text reads that Wiglaf "came to the place, carrying the treasure and found his lord bleeding profusely, his life at an end" (P. 92). In addition, for the funeral of Beowulf, Wiglaf commands that the treasure be burnt with his lord. Beowulf 's "royal pyre will melt no small amount of gold: heaped there in a hoard, it was bought at heavy cost, and that pile of rings he paid for at the end with his own life will go up with the flame, be furled in the fire" (P. 96-97). 

Second, the characters seem to follow the same motifs in the story such as the father and son aspect, the coming of age to become king motif, and the importance of kinsmen in the society. Beowulf and Wiglaf parallel each other in the fact that they are both adopted or accepted as a son by a lord. Beowulf is adopted by Hrothgar after the defeat of Grendel when Hrothgar states, "So, now, Beowulf, I adopt you in my heart as a dear son" (P. 53).

Wiglaf, following this idea, essentially is recognized as Beowulf 's son near the end of the literary work. As Beowulf lies poisoned by the dragon, he says that "now is the time when I would have wanted to bestow this armor on my own son" (P. 91). Then, after Wiglaf returns with the gold, Beowulf claims Wiglaf to be the new king saying "now that I have bartered my last breath, it is up to you to look after their needs," which essentially labels Wiglaf as the Beowulf 's son figure (P. 92).

The next motif that illustrates the similarities of the two warriors is the parallels seen in their coming of age stories in which they are reborn to be a king. In the instance of Beowulf, there are multiple battles leading to his rebirth as a king, the main one being the fight with Grendel 's mom. Because of birthing imagery depicted in the scene, Beowulf drops into the abyss a thane, and essentially, through rebirth, emerges as a king.

The text reads that Beowulf returned from the abyss which was "a surge of waves" with "blood in the backwash," a very clear version of birthing imagery (P. 68). Also, the text says, "He who wields power of time and tide: He is the true Lord" (P. 68). This is significant to the idea that Beowulf has been reborn a king since he emerged from the lake, a birthing image, and is upheld as the true lord. Wiglaf, although less indicated in this motif, still shares a common parallel in the fact that he begins his battle with the dragon as a thane and ends as a king.

When Wiglaf is described before the battle, it is said that this was "his first time to be tested as a fighter" (P. 89). However, the text directly after shows Wiglaf to have "wise and fluent words," a quality of a king (P. 89). Also, birthing imagery is apparent in Wiglaf 's story because of the use of the cave, a indicator of the womb. At the start of the battle Wiglaf enters the cave to assist his lord, Beowulf. At the end of the battle, he emerges from the cave and begins his duties as the king by rebuking the cowardly thanes who left their lord 's side and overseeing Beowulf 's funeral. 

The final aspect of the story showing the similarity between Beowulf and Wiglaf is the importance of kinsmen in the society. Not only does Wiglaf mirror Beowulf in conduct and character, but also in his lineage. As Beowulf "unclasped the collar of gold from his neck and gave it to the young thane, telling him to use it and the war-shirt and the guilded helmet well," he states "You are the last of us, the only one left of the Waegmundings" (P. 92).

This statement shows that Wiglaf and Beowulf are of the same blood, the same clan. This idea works exceptionally well to show that both characters were held in high regard as neither of them were of the clan of the Geats, and yet they still were chosen to serve as the king, regardless of their lineage.



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