Irony In Beowulf

Irony is discrepancy between expectation and reality. In Beowulf, what is ironic about the way Beowulf kills Grendel's mother?

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Beowulf is an epic hero known for his superhuman strength and courage. In the first major battle of the epic poem named for him, Beowulf defeats Grendel, who has been terrorizing Hrothgar's kingdom for decades. In that fight, Beowulf declares that he will fight the beast unarmed, since Grendel will...

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Beowulf is an epic hero known for his superhuman strength and courage. In the first major battle of the epic poem named for him, Beowulf defeats Grendel, who has been terrorizing Hrothgar's kingdom for decades. In that fight, Beowulf declares that he will fight the beast unarmed, since Grendel will not be using weapons but will fight with his bare hands. Beowulf does, indeed, win the fight, even tearing one of Grendel's arms from his body and hanging it in the mead hall as a trophy.

When Grendel's mother returns to the hall to avenge him, Beowulf demonstrates his epic courage by volunteering to go to the monster's lair alone to take on this second beast. He must swim a long distance and fight the monster on her own terms. This is certainly fitting for an epic hero. However, once he is in the battle, Beowulf is given the opportunity to use a magical sword to finish off Grendel's mother.

It is ironic that Beowulf uses this supernatural assistance to fight Grendel's mother when he earlier claimed that it was more just and fair to fight his enemies on an even playing field. It's also ironic that an epic hero known for his impressive strength would need help at all. Perhaps the sword is a way of evening out the battle, considering Beowulf has to go to the monster's lair and fight in an unsavory environment.

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As stated in the question, irony is the discrepancy between expectation and reality. In Beowulf, during the battle between Beowulf and Grendel's mother, some readers may find how Beowulf kills Grendel's mother ironic. 

As a true epic hero, Beowulf must live up to the promises (or battle boasts) he makes. After killing Grendel and Grendel''s mother kills Aeschere, Beowulf promises Hrothgar that he will kill Grendel's mother as well. Unferth, wanting to make amends for challenging Beowulf's honor earlier, presents Beowulf with Hrunting (a sword). Hrunting is an heirloom weapon of Unferth's family. It has never failed the warrior who wielded it. 

As Beowulf begins to fight Grendel's mother, he realizes that Hrunting is useless against her. Throwing the weapon aside, Beowulf spots a sword nearby. Grabbing the sword (made by giants), Beowulf brings the blade down upon Grendel's mother's neck and kills her. 

The irony in the battle with Grendel's mother lies in the fact that she is killed by her own sword. The man-made sword (Hrunting) would not harm her, yet the sword of the giant's, one which was magic, succeeded at killing the monster. Magic was killed by magic. 

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