Beowulf: Wiglaf’s Speech
Within the context of Beowulf, this brief analysis will seek to exemplify why the given passage, Wiglaf’s speech to the Geats, is emblematic of the virtue of bravery, heroism, and a unique type of prophetic revelation that are shown in various other places throughout the work. As a function of describing the ways in which the speech serves as a key turning point in the story, the speaker will attempt to answer the following questions: 1) who is the speaker, who is the audience and why is the speaker talking 2) what are the passage’s most important words and 3) what is the single most important sentence in the passage.
The passage opens with the understanding that Wiglaf, an older soldier himself, is speaking to a group of men that have fled from a confrontation with the dragon. These men have all but run for fear of being killed and due to the fearsome nature of the dragon that they have faced. In such a situation, the emotion that has caused them to act in such a way is opposite of bravery and courage. It is at this juncture that Wiglaf appears before the men and speaks to them concerning valor, courage, and bravery. Although many passages of Beowulf can be seen to extol these very virtues, this one in particular focuses the attention of the reader onto the differentiation between courage and fear, virtue and cowardice, and bravery and timidity. With respect to the most important words and the most important passage in the story, this would necessarily have to be the following: “Now the day has come/that our noble lord has need of the support/of good warriors; let us go to it,/help our warlord, despite the heat,/grim fire-terror” (3090-3094). In this way, Wiglaf is able to present to the men that notwithstanding their fear, notwithstanding their cowardice and lack of bravery, now is the time for action based upon all of the reasons he had already stipulated. Moreover, the words promises, glory, heroic, and deeds all work together to form the backbone of the theme of bravery and sacrifice that Wiglaf uses to rally these men to action. Without the use of such action detailed terminology, it is of course doubtful that the desired effect could have been achieved to the reader much less the men in question.
Although many people would say that it is impossible to encapsulate the meaning of a work so broad as Beowulf within such a few brief lines, it is the belief of this author that even though this may well be the case, the virtues of bravery, honor, and camaraderie which make up such a very large component of the story are all exemplified and expounded upon within Wiglaf’s speech to the Geats. In this way, the speech itself serves as the pivotal point in which these men recognize their solemn and sworn duty to defend and sacrifice one for another as the true exemplification of what honor and bravery stand for.
Chickering, Howell D., Jr., trans. Beowulf. New York, Anchor Books, 1989.