When the Shaper arrives, Grendel relinquishes his position in the narrative as the Danes’ historian and recorder. Unlike Grendel, who was merely trying to understand humans and make some sense of their culture, the Shaper has a political and social agenda in telling his version of history. His tales of the magnificent Scyld Shefing—lifted straight from the opening of Beowulf itself—legitimize Hrothgar’s rule, making it appear as if his reign is ordained by heaven itself. The song transforms vulgar soldiers into proud inheritors of a heroic tradition by changing the soldiers’ perceptions of themselves.
We can understand why the Danes would be thrilled by such a song, but why do the words also move Grendel so fiercely? Indeed, Grendel has a great deal of knowledge about the true nature of the history of the Danes that should undercut the power of the Shaper’s song. The poem offers little by way of factual truth; Grendel’s account of Danish history is probably much closer to the mark. Furthermore, Grendel cynically implies that the Shaper does not sing out of any inherent love for the Danes, but merely because he knows that Hrothgar’s growing prominence in the area will guarantee him a larger salary. We have seen Grendel begin to develop a capacity for rational, philosophical thought in the previous chapter; the first half of this chapter, with its emphasis on Grendel’s detached, almost scientific observation of the humans, seems to continue along that path. The beauty of the Shaper’s art, however, completely derails Grendel, sending him back to an animalistic, primal state. Torn between the lures of rational thought and beautiful poetry, Grendel grows confused and panicky. This chapter occurs under the sign of Gemini, the Twins; indeed, the bleating, two-headed beast to which Grendel alludes at the end of the chapter is a fitting symbol of his inner dilemma.