Essay on The Role of Wiglaf in Beowulf

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The Role of Wiglaf in Beowulf

Seemingly minor character Wiglaf plays a central role in the conclusion of Beowulf. A young knight who has never before seen battle, Wiglaf steps forward to help his lord, hero, and cousin Beowulf in a time of peril. With his failure in battle and resulting death, the narrator shows that Beowulf is, after all, a prideful and mortal being; thus begins the transfer of heroic status from the old king to the young knight. The narrator argues that Wiglaf is worthy of his abruptly acquired status even though his intentions may seem questionable. The end of the poem devotes a significant amount of lines to dialogue spoken by Wiglaf, signifying his newly crucial role in his kingdom and in the story.
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Stepping up to lead the ranks into battle, he rallies the troops and tries to excite the others’ passion and will to defend their lord and their purpose. Beowulf is now a weak and unsound character in need of rescuing, whereas Wiglaf is the valiant hero and savior. As Beowulf fails for the first time, Wiglaf confronts battle for “his first time to be tested as a fighter” (2627). He is the only visible character aside from Beowulf as the other knights were hiding out of harms way:

No help or backing was to be had then / from his highborn comrades; that hand-picked troop / broke ranks and ran for their lives / to the safety of the wood (2597-2599).
The cowardice of these men contrasts with Wiglaf’s bravery and discernment: But within one heart / sorrow welled up: in a man of worth / the claims of kinship cannot be denied (2599-2602).

He concedes that Beowulf wants to fight the fight alone, but recognizes the futility of the king’s prideful wishes and suggests that “sound men,” or men who are not weak and foolish, lend a hand to the old man.

In the climax of the battle scene and last display of his strength, Wiglaf must take refuge behind Beowulf’s shield as they fight the dragon. However, the transition of heroism onto Wiglaf progresses when he stands beside
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