Unferth the Wicked

In literature, the protagonist is so often the brave, proud, loyal character. It is far overdue for the villains to have a voice. Unferth, the advisor to King Hrothgar, would make the best protagonist in Beowulf because he is evil, in awe of Grendel, and a complex character.unferth1

Unferth is undeniably evil. He believes that he is better than other humans. “They were only people, silly creatures of flesh and blood, mortal trash. He hated them.” This shows that he sees the problems of humanity and thinks that he is exempt from them. The text also stated, “Unferth longed for he knew not what. Something vast and dark and terrible. Something that would recognize him as a cut above the merely human.” This shows that Unferth thinks that he is better than humans. Unferth also welcomed Grendel’s Mother into Hall Heorot, “Unferth stood up and stretched out his arms. “‘Welcome,’ he said.” Not to mention, in the original version of the book, Unferth killed his brother. This was known as the worst crime because it weakened the small family-like communities they lived in.

Unferth is also in awe of Grendel. After the first attack, he told the story of Grendel. He seemed to enjoy the story, this caused King Hrothgar to make the comment of, “‘All right,’ said Hrothgar, ‘there’s no need to sound as though you enjoy it so much.’” This shows that he enjoyed the horrific story that he was telling. The quote also displays the idea that this is not the first time that Unferth has relished in gory details of Grendel’s story.

Another reason that Unferth would make a better protagonist is that he is a complex character. While Beowulf is a semi-complex character, Unferth is more complex, given the fact that he has many mental disorders. 

(Mental disorders are not what makes a complex character. That mentality is very ableist and patronizing to those with mental disorders. However, it does give a unique perspective) Given the information in the text, it is very apparent that Unferth is suicidal, sociopathic, and shows symptoms of many other mental disorders that may have been the result of years of being an outcast. Another way that Unferth is complex is that he is opposed to Beowulf. In the story, he is the only one who is wary of Beowulf when he arrives. He also tells the story of how Beowulf allegedly tried to drown his friend Breca, “Unferth’s thin lips were wry and ugly with malice. ‘Breca,’ he said slowly, savoring each nasty word, ‘was the name of a friend of our fine hero here. I just remembered the story while you and the queen were busy heaping incomprehensible praises on him.’” While this was not true, it does show that while everyone else was praising Beowulf, Unferth was doing his best to ruin his chances of getting help from Hrothgar. And in spite of all of this, King Hrothgar and Queen Wealthow still kept him on their staff. This raises the question of why, why would the king and queen keep him around? The role of devil’s advocate can’t possibly be useful enough to justify having a murderous and obviously unstable person in a position of power. One can make the assumption that Unferth must have done something to earn the esteem of the king and queen.

Considering the possibilities, Unferth would definitely make the best protagonist. He is complex, fascinated with Grendel, and undeniably evil. Unferth is evil because he thinks himself better than everyone else, welcomed Grendel’s Mother into Hall Heorot, and killed his brother. He is fascinated with Grendel, as stated above and many times throughout the text. Lastly, he is complex because of the mental illnesses he is clearly suffering through, is against Beowulf, and yet it seems he has done some good in his life. All of these qualities make Unferth the perfect fit for the best protagonist.

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