Sense and Sensibility:
The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son
|"There is not intended to be what we should call a
difference of social standing between the two speakers. One requires a
younger lighter voice, and the other an older and deeper. The difference
between them is rather one of temper, and matter, than 'class'.
--Letter to BBC in preparation for broadcast of The Homecoming on 3
"Coming home dead without a head (as Beorhtnoth did) is not very
delightful. But this is spoof."
--Letter to Allen & Unwin, 23 Feburary 1961, complaining of Åke
Ohlmark's introduction to the Swedish version of the Lord of
Rings in which he writes that Tolkien "also treats another
Tolkien's drawing-room play, The Homecoming of
Beorhtnoth, is an alliterative work that functions as an extended
commentary on Beorhtnoth's fatal decision in the Battle of Maldon to let
his enemies cross the causeway, and on the heroic worldview that lays
behind it. It also serves as similar complex thinking about Beowulf
and the writer who would enter that world.
I've nicknamed the positions of
Believes the battlefield contains
ghosts, omens, and barrow-wights
Makes the deaths of the fallen heroic
and worthy of song
Sings of the glory of the fallen and
the barrows to be built
Slays a corpse stripper
The honor of Beorhtnoth
Heroic and pagan and fey
Tídwald ("Wielder of
Insists that its only the darkness
Insists he doesn't understand the
pain and horror of real battle; the world always weeps
Rather have peace in Christian days
with the monks mourning over the dead
Points out such live wretched, poor
The hubris of Beorhtnoth
Plain and Christian and practical
- Is it possible to see the three sections of the
work--the historical background "Beorhtnoth's Death," the
verse drama, and "Ofermod"--as a holistic work, or do they
rather function as two or three interrelated, but otherwise too
stylistically different sections to form a whole?
- Is it possible to read Tolkien's own experience
in WWI into The Homecoming?
- Is Tolkien more inclined to one position? Why? or
- How does Tolkien include gallows humor in the
- Does Tolkien stake too much on lines 89-90, as opposed
to lines 312-313?
- How does Tolkien's reading of ofermod
shape his reading of Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green
- What might it mean to read Torhthelm as the
eventual author of the fragment we know as The
Battle of Maldon?
- How might Tolkien's multi-sided view of heroism
and chivalry in this work reveal aspects of his other fiction?
- Is it significant that Tolkien's ends the
verse-drama with the words of the Dirge, the Matins prayer
service for the dead (taken from Psalm 5), as well as the prayer the Gloria
Patri? (see below)
|Dīrige, Domine, in conspectū tuō viam meam.
Intrōībō in domum tuam: adōrābō ad templum
sanctum tuum in timōre tuō.
Domine, dēdūc mē in jūstitiā tuā : propter
inimīcōs meōs dīrige in conspectū tuō viam
Glōria Patrī et Fīliō et Spīrituī Sanctō:
sīcut erat in prīncipiō et nunc et semper et in saecula
Dīrige, Domine, in conspectū tuō viam meam.
|Direct, O Lord, my way in your sight.
I will enter your house: I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of
Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness: because of my enemies; direct my
way before you..
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in
the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.
Direct, O Lord, my way in your sight.