Grendel

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The Shaper Character Analysis

The Shaper is an old, blind man who comes to Hrothgar offering to sing for money. He is the character through whom the novel most deeply explores ideas about language, art, and beauty. His skillful songs inspire Hrothgar’s men to greatness and propagate ideas of heroism, justice, and religion. He also inspires Hrothgar to construct his great meadhall, Hart. For Grendel, the Shaper has the unique ability to shape and change the world, creating a sense of order, meaning, and beauty out of a chaotic universe. Grendel is fascinated and enticed by the beauty of the Shaper’s art, but he is also enraged by it, since he knows that it false and full of lies. However, underlying Grendel’s dislike of the Shaper is at least some jealousy, as Grendel wishes he could be a part of the community that is unified by the Shaper’s stories. The dragon sees the shaper’s songs as simply illusion, a tool that helps the humans deal with an irrational universe. While this may be true, the Shaper does possess real power and is able to make things actually happen in the real world (such as the construction of Hart).

The Shaper Quotes in Grendel

The Grendel quotes below are all either spoken by The Shaper or refer to The Shaper. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Grendel published in 1989.
Chapter 3 Quotes

So he sang—or intoned, with the harp behind him—twisting together like sailors’ ropes the bits and pieces of the best old songs. The people were hushed. Even the surrounding hills were hushed, as if brought low by language.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), The Shaper
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Grendel meets the Shaper--a bard who sings for the community of humans. The Shaper, Grendel knows full-well, is a liar: he sings beautiful, idealized songs about heroism, encouraging humans to go off and die for their communities. Without the influence of the Shaper, humans wouldn't be as violent: they need poets and writers to inspire them to go out and fight to the death.

And yet Grendel also finds the Shaper utterly transfixing. His words may be lies, but they're undeniably beautiful. In all, the passage reinforces Grendel's close relationship to humanity--a relationship that's mediated by the power of language. Grendel despises much of human culture, but he has a weakness for the single most essential part of human culture--words.

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Chapter 4 Quotes

It was a cold-blooded lie that a god had lovingly made the world and set out the sun and moon as lights to land-dwellers, that brothers had fought, that one of the races was saved, the other cursed. Yet he, the old Shaper, might make it true, by the sweetness of his harp, his cunning trickery. It came to me with a fierce jolt that I wanted it. As they did too, though vicious animals, cunning, cracked with theories. I wanted it, yes! Even if I must be the outcast, cursed by the rules of his hideous fable.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), The Shaper
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Grendel considers everything the Shaper has sung about. In his song, the Shaper claims that Grendel is descended from a semi-Biblical "bad brother" who was punished by god for his disobedience. In other words, the Shaper claims that Grendel is being punished for the sins of his ancestors. Humans, by contrast, are descended from a martyred "good brother." Notice that the Shaper's story echoes the Biblican Cain-Abel story, but with one major modification. In the Bible, Cain kills Abel before Abel can have any children, suggesting that no one is descended from the "good brother." Furthermore, Cain has children of his own and builds the first human city. (Although according to Judeo-Christian tradition, all of Cain's descendants are killed in the Great Flood, and the rest of humanity is descended from Adam and Eve's younger children.) If anything, then, humans are the descendants of the bad brother! But because humans refuse to accept their own sinful nature, they craft a different story, in which they're "good" and Grendel is "bad."

Grendel doesn't believe the Shaper's story, and yet his hunger for stories and art is so great that he accepts it--he wants to believe it. Grendel craves order and meaning in the universe. So even if he is cast as the villain in the Shaper's story, he'll accept this story because of the meaning it provides him. A sad story is better than no story at all.

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The Shaper Character Timeline in Grendel

The timeline below shows where the character The Shaper appears in Grendel. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
...Each time, people cry out and an old blind man with a harp, called the Shaper, flees out a back window. Hrothgar’s men try to fight Grendel but never succeed. This... (full context)
Chapter 3
Language Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
...the very landscape hushed “as if brought low by language.” The harp-player, known as the Shaper, offered to sing of Hrothgar’s glory for pay. (full context)
Language Theme Icon
Grendel was swept up in the song and music of the Shaper even though he knows that the Shaper’s version of a heroic history is false. Grendel... (full context)
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Grendel fled from the meadhall crying, feeling ridiculous and pained by the Shaper’s poetry. He attempted to reason about how true or false the Shaper was. From the... (full context)
Chapter 4
Language Theme Icon
In the present day, the Shaper still sings, as Grendel continually spies on Hrothgar’s greatest meadhall, Hart. Grendel says that the... (full context)
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
Grendel knew the Shaper was lying but his words sounded true. Hrothgar gathered a slew of workers to construct... (full context)
Language Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
Talking to himself out in the wild, Grendel thought about how the Shaper was able to reshape the world and change it. As he thought, Grendel thought he... (full context)
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Nature and Time Theme Icon
...settlement, he accidentally stepped on a dead man, whose clothes had been stolen. As the Shaper began to play, Grendel picked up the body and went closer to the hall to... (full context)
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
The Shaper sang of how the earth was first created by the greatest of gods and how... (full context)
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Grendel then rushed into the hall crying out “mercy!” and “peace!” The Shaper stopped playing and the men screamed and attacked Grendel. Grendel dropped to his knees, saying... (full context)
Language Theme Icon
Nature and Time Theme Icon
Heroism Theme Icon
Two nights later, Grendel went back to hear the Shaper, addicted to his singing. The Shaper sung lies about how men had fought heroically against... (full context)
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
Back in his cave, Grendel was convinced that the Shaper’s songs about the creation of the world and the feud between two ancient brothers were... (full context)
Chapter 5
Language Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
...their crackpottheories!” When the humans realize that their theories are flawed, the dragon explained, the Shaper helps by providing a pleasing illusion of reality. (full context)
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Nature and Time Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
...all of his treasure. He advises Grendel, “know thyself.” Grendel told the dragon of the Shaper’s story of the world’s creation, which the dragon called ridiculous. The dragon reiterated the unimportance... (full context)
Chapter 6
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
...begun systematic raids. He would wait at the edge of the forest, listening to the Shaper’s songs, which enraged him with their confidence and hope. He went up to the wall... (full context)
Chapter 7
Language Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
Grendel sings, influenced by the language of the Shaper. He thinks he might be crazy but keeps singing. He narrates in third-person how he... (full context)
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
...go to the meadhall and watch Wealtheow serve all the tables, charming Hrothgar like the Shaper. She softened tempers and mediated arguments, her beauty resolving men’s disputes. She calmed Unferth when... (full context)
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
...winter, Wealtheow’s brother came to Hart. All the men ate, drank, and listened to the Shaper. Grendel watched through the crack in the wall. The humans were all merry, though Grendel... (full context)
Chapter 8
Language Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
...have thoughts of challenging Hrothgar’s authority. Grendel presents a theorem that he ascribes to the Shaper: “Any action of the human heart must trigger an equal and opposite reaction.” (full context)
Chapter 10
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Language Theme Icon
Nature and Time Theme Icon
The Shaper is sick. Grendel watches as Hrothgar, Wealtheow, and Hrothulf go to visit the Shaper’s sickbed.... (full context)
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
...When they sleep, she buries him under her fur. Prompted by the death of the Shaper, Grendel ponders the impossibility of going back to the past and remembers his youth. (full context)
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
Grendel decides to attend the Shaper’s funeral. His mother attempts to prevent him from leaving the cave. Grendel considers that she... (full context)