How Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried ACT TWO

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

Moderators: Justin Jeffrey, alberich00

How Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried ACT TWO

Postby alberich00 » Mon Oct 03, 2011 10:27 am



Frederick and his loveless wife Ortrud also discredit Lohengrin's innocence. They conspire with Elsa to expose what Ortrud later describes as his hidden guilt because Elsa alone can make him reveal it:


Weisst du, wer dieser Held, den hier
ein Schwan gezogen an das Land?




Was gaebst du drum, es zu erfahren,
wenn ich dir sag': ist er gezwungen
zu nennen wie sein Nam' und Art,
all' seine Macht zu Ende ist,
die muehvoll ihm ein Zauber leiht?


Ha! Dann begriff' ich sein Verbot!


Nun Hoer'! Niemand hat hier Gewalt
ihm das Geheimniss zu entreissen,
als die, der er so streng verbot
die Frage je an ihn zu thun.


So gaelt' es, Elsa zu verleiten,
dass sie die Frag' ihm nicht erleiss'?
(Act II, Scene 1; GS II, 82-83)
[Ortrud: Do you know who this hero is whom a swan brought to this land? Frederick: No! Ortrud: But what would you give to learn if I tell you that, should he be forced to reveal his name and lineage, all his power would be ended which is only lent by magic spell? Frederick: Ha! Then I would understand his command! Ortrud: Now hear! No one here has the power to tear the secret from him save her whom he so strictly forbade even to ask him this question. Frederick: This means that Elsa must be induced to press him with the question.]

Later, we will examine why Ortrud has knowledge of Lohengrin's Achilles' heel and why Elsa has the power to expose him.
Ortrud also suggests that if Frederick wounds Lohengrin, he will show his true identity:

Jed' Wesen, das durch Zauber stark,
wird ihm des Leibes Kleinstes Glied
entrissen nur, muss sich alsbald
ohnmaechtig zeigen, wie es ist.
O haettest du
in Kampf nur einen Finger ihm,
ja, eines Fingers Glied entschlagen,
der Held, er war in deiner Macht!
(Act II, Scene 1; GS II, 84)
[Anyone made strong by magic, if deprived of even the smallest limb, must revert forthwith to his natural frailty! [...] Oh, had you cut off a finger or even a part in the fight, you'd have had the hero in your power!]

Ortrud identifies this wound with that doubt which can reveal the magical, or even perhaps the natural, origin of Lohengrin's allegedly spiritual inspiration. In Act II, Scene 2 Ortrud attempts to wake suspicion in Elsa that Lohengrin will leave "in the way he came to you, by magic" (GS II, 88), implying that the redemption he offers is only temporary. This is of great import because Frederick later tells Elsa that if he wounds Lohengrin during their night of love, "you'll clearly see what he hides from you; he'll be faithful and never leave" (Act II, Scene 5; GS II, 98). Frederick says that Lohengrin will remain with her precisely because she learns who he is, not, as Lohengrin said, because she remains ignorant of his identity. Perhaps Elsa will be able to command Lohengrin's loyalty because she alone can heal a wound that represents the tragic fate involved in exposing Lohengrin's identity.

Ortrud has come to Elsa as the Serpent came to Eve, tempting her to seek knowledge that the divine-seeming Lohengrin has forbidden her. He has warned that seeking it will in effect cause a rift between heaven and earth. However, if, as Ortrud says, Lohengrin is a fraud posing as God-sent, it is possible that this knowledge, not the act of seeking it, will make a breach in faith itself. If so, Elsa can repay Lohengrin for his perjury by helping him conceal his fatal knowledge.
Ortrud was formerly deprived of her power in Brabant and, together with Frederick, is now banished from her lands. In envious misery she exploits Elsa's compassion to sow the seed of doubt in Elsa's now blissful home:

Wie koenntest du fuerwahr mir neiden
das Glueck, dass mich zum Weib erwaehlt
der Mann, den du so gern verschmaeht?
O du bist gluecklich!
Nach kurzem, unschuldsuessem Leiden
siehst laechelnd du das Leben nur;
von mir darfst selig du dich scheiden,
mich schickst du auf des Todes Spur, --
dass meines Jammer's trueber Schein
nie kehr' in deine Feste ein.
(Act II, Scene 2; GS II; 86-7)
[How, indeed, could you envy me my fortune, when the man you gladly rejected chose me for wife? [...] Oh, you are happy! After brief, unjustified suffering you see only life smiling; blissfully you may shun me and send me on my path to death, so keeping my gloom and misery from the security of your home!]

Elsa will later excuse her compassion by telling Lohengrin, "I saw her in distress before this gate; to ease her misery (Noth) I bade her enter" (Act II, Scene 5; GS II, 95). Ortrud evidently has a special relationship with Elsa, but what its nature may be is not self-evident. Beset by envy, Ortrud tells Elsa that he delusive happiness was bought at the price of denying her own painful fate (Noth), which evidently includes her marriage to Frederick. Perhaps Elsa rejected Frederick as a suitor (as he says in Act 1, Scene 1) because it is Frederick's nature to expose her hidden guilt, i.e., Frederick may represent a certain type of man who is "too conscious". Elsa may instinctively prefer her dream-lover, Lohengrin, to her potential "waking" lover, Frederick, because Lohengrin perjures himself to keep up the pretence of her innocence. It is certainly possible that for both Elsa and Lohengrin, the dream-lovers, their conceptual knowledge of their guilt is unconscious, that Elsa believes in her innocence and that Lohengrin assumes that he is divinely inspired. This could happen only if their dream-world had taken the place of Ortrud's stern reality in their conscious mind. In this case Ortrud's knowledge of their true guilt might be unconsciously known to them, and this could explain Elsa's refusal to declare her innocence, her doubt of Lohengrin and his fear of exposure.

Frederick seems more suited to Ortrud as a companion in her envious misery. The key to their marriage is that Ortrud claims to have, with Frederick's help, the power to expose as pretenders those to whom she lost her power in Brabant, and thus restore it. No longer honoured by the folk, and with nothing to lose since they are both banned, Frederick plots revenge with Ortrud. Ortrud associates her lost power, significantly, with the pagan gods Wodan and Freia (Act 2, Scene 2), soon t become respectively the central figure and a key symbol in the "Ring." Ortrud speaks of them as the true gods overthrown by the illusory, and thus powerless, faith, Christianity, while in the "Ring" Wagner depicts them as mortals posing as divine: they are subject to fate and fear the end.

Frederick's marriage to Ortrud presents a problem. In Act I, Scene 1, Frederick says he rejected Elsa's hand in marriage in favour of Ortrud in horror at Elsa's alleged fratricide. Yet in this same scene he tells King Henry:

O Herr, traumselig ist die eitle Magd,
die meine Hand voll Hochmuth von sich stiess.
Geheimer Buhlschaft klag' ich sie drum an:
sie waehnte wohl, wenn sie des Bruders ledig,
dann koennte sie als Herrin von Brabant
mit Recht dem Lehnsmann ihre Hand verwehren,
und offen des geheimen Buhlen pflegen.
(Act I, Scene 1; GS II, 68)
[O Sire, the vain maid is lost in dreams; with haughty mien she rejected my hand. So of a secret love I accuse her: she no doubt thought that once rid of her brother she would then have, as mistress of Brabant, the right to refuse her hand to the vassal and openly to cherish her secret lover.]

But in Act II, Scene 2 Frederick gives a third reason for rejecting Elsa: he blames Ortrud for tempting him with power to forsake Elsa's hand for her own, for Ortrud hopes to regain her lost kingdom and Frederick expects to share in her power. While Frederick may just be a disappointed lover catching at straws to rationalise his humiliation, a more logical unifying principle may account for his different versions of this event: his rejection by "innocent" Elsa and quest for compensation in Ortrud's worldly power. If Elsa is Eve, we have a solution.

The Genesis creation myth describes Eve as both innocent and as guilty of giving Adam the knowledge through which we lost our innocence. The Serpent tempted her to obtain knowledge that God had forbidden us to have: knowing good and evil, we would become like God. However, once we lost our innocence through Eve, the knowledge which the Serpent promised would give divine power in fact revealed our mortal nature. "Innocence" had betrayed us. Yet the reverse could be the truer case, as it is equally possible that knowledge of our mortal, natural self inspired us to imagine and to long for divine power that is freed from nature. In flight from our sinful yet true nature (Noth), we would long for a return to that paradise from which our acquisition of knowledge had banished us.

Wagner thought that this quest to regain lost innocence was the guiding principle of our life:

The state of innocence could not come to men's consciousness until they had lost it. This yearning back thereto, the struggle for its reattainment, is
the soul of the whole movement of civilisation since ever we learned to know the men of legend and of history. It is the impulse to depart from a
generality that seems hostile to us, to arrive at egoistic satisfaction in ourselves ("Jesus of Nazareth": SS XI, 305; PW VIII, 320)

How interesting that Wagner describes our quest to escape the world's harsh realities and our true nature, and to return to innocence, as egoistic, as this corresponds with Ortrud's worldview. Wagner suggests that we cannot escape our egoistic, natural self in paradise because our longing for paradise is egoistic. If our desire for redemption from the world's anguish (Noth) is inspired by the harsh world, our idea of paradise itself may be a product of this desire. If so, we were not immortal prior to our fall through knowledge but simply had not yet acquired consciousness of our mortality.

But what has this to do with Frederick and Lohengrin? If we concern ourselves, as objective, scientific thought does, with no "other world" outside this one, we might say that our longing for redemption from our only world - "a generality that seems hostile to us" - is an unwitting quest for redemption from consciousness of it, as no other means of escape is imaginable, there being no other world to escape to. One such means of escape from consciousness of truth involves the substitution of an illusion, held to be true, for true knowledge of something too intolerable for the conscious mind to safely handle. Ortrud accuses Lohengrin of such a sham, and with Frederick's help plans to expose it. If the Tree of Knowledge represents both consciousness of our mortality and longing for redemption from it, it is arguable that the Tree of Life, whose fruit we lost upon our banishment, represents the "unconsciousness" of mortality that we may have enjoyed prior to our acquisition of knowledge. Our hunger for salvation would then be a wish to restore unconsciousness, to be redeemed from knowledge. If Elsa is Eve, the Adam and Eve story could in turn represent our emergence from unconsciousness to consciousness of our true, unhappy state of affairs.

Since Wagner believed that Lohengrin was a pagan figure co-opted by Christianity, but tended to identify pagan belief with nature worship and to associate Christianity with world-renunciation, it is noteworthy that on this subject of redemption from our only world in other worlds, he said:

The really perplexing problem [...] is always how, in this terrible world of ours, beyond which there is only nothingness, it might be possible to infer
the existence of a God who would make life's immense sufferings merely something apparent, while the redemption we long for is seen as something
entirely real that may be consciously enjoyed. This may not be a problem for philistines - especially for the English variety: the reason they get on
so splendidly with their God is because they enter into a contract with Him, according to whose terms they have to fulfill a certain number of
contractual points, so that, finally, as a reward for various shortcomings in this world, they may enjoy eternal bliss in the world to come (Letter to
Franz Liszt of 7 June, 1855: SB VII; 205)

Wagner here describes world-renunciation, our redemption in paradise, as a mere product of man's desire to escape pain, and rejects this as hypocritical. This sounds like Ortrud's complaint that Elsa's bliss ignores Ortrud's woe.

I propose that this distinction between conscious and unconscious may be expressed in the contrast between Frederick as potential "waking" suitor to Elsa (but actual suitor to Ortrud) and Lohengrin as Elsa's preferred dream-lover. Frederick seems to have chosen the real world of waking consciousness: while Lohengrin in Act III, Scene 2 blissfully recalls that he and Elsa first saw each other in dreams, Frederick in Act I, Scene 2 boasts that he is not misled by Elsa's dreamy mood. Rejected by Elsa, he in turn rejects her, losing both his innocence and any ability to restore it. Having acquired knowledge, but sacrificing the folk's esteem in the process, his consciousness of the harsh world's objective reality has made him cynical about the folk's ideals, so that he turns to Ortrud's "worldly" power. Frederick can truly say that "truth I tell, falsehood is alien to me" (Act I, Scene 1; GS II, 67) and rightfully claims that "I never thought of lying" (Act I, Scene 3; GS II, 76), since he identifies his honour with his truthfulness (Act II, Scene 1; GS II, 80). Even King Henry felt that Frederick could be depended upon to solve real problems in the real world, telling Frederick, "gladly I grant you highest virtue's praise; in none other's protection than in yours would I wish these lands to be" (Act I, Scene 2; GS II, 71). Frederick has objectively, lovelessly bonded with the world (Ortrud), but for this very reason can attain real power.

Lohengrin, on the other hand, comes from a dream-realm which abhors conscious reasoning and produces a subjective, emotional response to the world. Where Frederick holds Mother Nature's harsh truths in view and thus accuses Elsa of fratricide and acknowledges Ortrud's cruelty (Act II, Scene 2), Lohengrin redeems the folk from Frederick's waking knowledge of nature's reality. While the folk enjoy the practical benefits that Frederick confers, they prefer Lohengrin and invest him with the power of their desire because he flatters it. Frederick's proper authority is thus usurped by Lohengrin.

But we must go beyond Adam, Eve and Christ and hypothetically reconstruct what was probably the true subject of Wagner's allegory. For Wagner never seems to have believed in the literal truth of the Bible and rejected its myth of the Fall even late in life during his "religious" phase: "He started on the Bible today and cannot get over his astonishment that in England and elsewhere this story of the Creation is still the basis of religious instruction; all the same, the sense of sin through knowledge is a fine one" (CT, 8 August 1879). No, from at least the late 1840's until the end of his life Wagner believed in the natural evolution of man from animal, and we can probably safely assume that this was so during the early and mid-1840's when he completed "Lohengrin." Therefore, if Elsa is a metaphor for Eve, Wagner might also have taken Eve's guilt as a metaphor, albeit an originally unwitting one, for nature's evolutionary creation of the conscious animal, man, since nature is the truth behind the anthropomorphic symbol Eve. If so, Elsa as Eve may have a special relationship with Mother Nature which could account for Ortrud's mysterious influence over her. Although Ortrud later admits responsibility for Godfrey's plight, Elsa also seems responsible for it - while Frederick reminds Ortrud that she claims to have seen Elsa drown Godfrey in a pool (Act I, Scene 2), Elsa's version as told by Frederick is that she inadvertently lost Godfrey in the woods (Act I, Scene 1). It is even possible that Ortrud and Elsa are in some sense identical, but distinguished by Frederick's waking consciousness and Lohengrin's dreamlike unconsciousness. An interesting parallel is the relationship of Erda ("Mother Nature") to her daughter by Wotan, Bruennhilde, for Erda gives Wotan foreknowledge of fate from which Bruennhilde offers redemption, and we shall shortly see how Elsa offers Lohengrin redemption.

We can better understand the difference between Frederick's and Lohengrin's relations with the world if we recreate the Biblical Myth of the Fall in modern terms which Wagner understood. In this way we can see what is at stake in "Lohengrin," and possibly grasp why, after completing it, Wagner undertook the "Ring." As there are many passages throughout Wagner's writings that support my thesis, I refer the reader especially to those portions which concern man's original innocence and Fall as found in "Jesus of Nazareth", "The Artwork of the Future," "Art and Climate" and the discussion of Oedipus in "Opera and Drama."

When we rose to consciousness of ourselves as human, we were distinguished from all other animals by our foresight, our unique advantage in being able consciously to plan ahead. Our disadvantage lay in the fact that this same reflective, symbolic intelligence which we inherited seemingly from "nowhere" and which gave us the cunning, power and civilised arts through which we dominated the earth and all the other animals also allowed us to foresee our natural end, multiplying our fear and anguish (Noth). Our animal ancestors were therefore distinguished from us by their "innocence". While our gifts seemed "not of this world", our "Noth" seemed all too much a part of it for the simple reason that we seek pleasure and abhor pain and naturally desire to segregate them. Thus the popular notion that our world is hell, and heaven must be elsewhere. So, waking from our former animal unconsciousness to find ourselves heir to such godly gifts, but suffering also from a heightened awareness of life's anguish (Noth) which no other animal shared with us, we assumed that our blessedness must be our proper condition and our wretchedness abnormal, and that we had fallen into our present woeful condition through some lapse. How, after all, could we be both god and animal? We could not see ourselves as gods, since a god by definition does not suffer and die. We could not reconcile ourselves with our true, animal nature, because no other animals contemplate the infinite or universal. We could not think of our anguish (Noth) as a natural product of our gifts, so we imagined that we had sinned by stealing these gifts from heaven and suffered divine wrath as punishment.

In reality, however, the paradise that we thought we had lost through sin was not a spiritual realm freed from nature, but rather the general unconsciousness or instinctiveness, the life of "feeling" that we once shared with all animals. But we could not afford to admit this. We proposed instead the existence of a realm outside nature freed from the pain of life in it. Since we needed to deceive ourselves about this, Mother Nature and our animal nature, once innocent, seemed to us abhorrent, and we renounced and disavowed them in favour of our beloved spirit realm. But there was a difficulty. In order to propose the real existence of our paradise, even though we had invented it, we would have to be unconscious of having invented it. In a word, we could not sustain our self-delusion if we were conscious of lying to ourselves. This paradise, this "magic", could only have been created involuntarily by our unconscious mind where those dreams are born for whose creation our conscious mind cannot take credit. Such is the dream-realm that Lohengrin shares with Elsa. But there is another problem: since we are a product of Mother Nature, yet have unconsciously invented this paradise as a reaction against our mother, her painful truths (Noth) might one day in vengeance rise to consciousness in us and destroy our illusion (Wahn) that our paradise is free from her. We would then have to acknowledge that we had been deceiving ourselves and had invented the transcendent world as embodied by the concepts of god, redemption, immortality and free will.

It would follow from this thesis that Lohengrin is a metaphor for religion which satisfies man's desire for what "ought" to be, since he turns desire into truth. Having renounced Ortrud's real world and power, he has only the magical or illusory power vested in him by the folk's longing. This would account for his temporary victory over Frederick. Frederick presents, in contrast, an image of the man who can acknowledge what "is" because he has no need to lie and is too conscious to dream, a type later embodied in some of Wagner's villains and in his conception of Jews and scientists as anti-ideal.

And what of the dispossessed, envious and vengeful Ortrud? As a metaphor for Mother Nature and her bitter truths, banished from our now secure, blissful consciousness by our false faith in redemption, she seeks acknowledgment. To understand Frederick's and Ortrud's banishment we need only remember that during the long period in which mythological, religious thought held sway and modern science was not yet born, nature's truths and those who affirmed them were in a sorry plight because the folk, ourselves, unwittingly desired to be deceived and could still get away with it. Maybe this is what Ortrud means when she calls Christian faith in God's transcendence "Wahn" - illusion, semi-conscious feigning, madness (Act II, Scene 2; GS II, 87) - and "cowardice" (Act II, Scene 1; GS II, 82). This cowardice is the inability to face Mother Nature's truth (Noth), and this "Wahn" is the consoling illusion that we substitute for it. She can exact revenge and restore her power only by discrediting the "Wahn" that conceals it, which she can accomplish by exposing the secrets of the lovers' night (unconsciousness) to daylight consciousness.

The morning after Ortrud gains admittance to Elsa's mind, she contronts Elsa at the minster:

Kannst du ihn nennen? Kannst du uns es sagen,
ob sein Geschlecht, sein Adel wohl bewaehrt?
Woher die Fluthen ihn zu dir getragen,
wann und wohin er wieder von dir faehrt?
Ha, nein! Wohl braechte ihm es schlimme Noth;
der kluge Held die Frage drum verbot!
Ha! Diese Reine deines Helden,
wie waere sie so bald getruebt,
muesst er des Zaubers Wesen melden,
durch den hier solche Macht er uebt!
Wagst du ihn nicht darum zu fragen,
so glauben alle wir mit Recht,
du muessest selbst in Sorge zagen,
um seine Reine steh' es schlecht!
(Act II, Scene 4; GS II, 93-4)
[Can you name him? Can you tell us if his lineage and nobility are proved? Whence came he across the waters to you, when and whither goes he again from you? Ha, no! It would mean great distress (Noth) for him, so the clever hero forbade the question! [...] This innocence of your hero, how quickly it would be tarnished were he forced to show the source of magic through which he wields such power here! If you don't dare to ask him this, we'll justly believe that even you hesitate through fear, lest his innocence be disproved!]

Ortrud's accusations against both Elsa and Lohengrin suggest that Elsa's "Noth" (the accusation of fratricide) and the "Noth" that Lohengrin will suffer if his true identity is revealed are linked. Elsa already implied this when she said in Act I, Scene 2 that, just as Lohengrin believes in her innocence, she will keep her promise not to ask his identity. Perhaps Lohengrin can successfully perjure himself for Elsa's sake only if Elsa does not expose his identity. Indeed, Lohengrin impugns Elsa's innocence (not in respect of Godfrey's death, but in general) when in Act III, Scene 3 he blames her for forcing him to reveal his identity. But Ortrud suggested that revealing Lohengrin's identity will show the true origin of his inspiration. Since Elsa's "Noth" and Lohengrin's "Noth" seem analogous, we could argue that Elsa's sin is Lohengrin's true source of inspiration, her remorse in giving Godfrey fatal knowledge the true cause of Lohengrin's coming. Similarly, it was only through Eve's temptation and Adam's Fall that Christ could offer redemption.

We are compelled, however, to confront a disturbing question. If, as suggested previously, we did not fall from grace with heaven but invented heaven as an antidote to nature's truth, the true source of Lohengrin's inspiration is actually our hell, our inability to accept our true nature and natural limits, and not heaven. If this is so and if the folk instinctively felt the danger that they themselves would face in bringing this knowledge to consciousness, they would behave exactly as they do in "Lohengrin," banishing and censuring all who bring their false beliefs into doubt and making a virtue of ignorance.


Welch' ein Geheimniss muss der Held bewahren?
Bringt es ihm Noth, so wahr' er treu sein Mund!


Wir schirmen ihn, den Edlen, vor Gefahren;
durch seine That ward uns sein Adel kund.
(Act II, Scene 5; GS II, 97)
[What secret must the hero guard? If to tell it brings him peril (Noth), he must truly keep it! [...] We'll protect the worthy knight from danger; through his deed his noble rank was made clear!]

How strange that the folk assume that Lohengrin is noble, yet heed Ortrud's allegation that Lohengrin might face peril (Noth) if his identity is exposed! Their desire to preserve Elsa's innocence from Frederick's allegedly false accusation was so strong and Elsa's need for redemption from her "Noth" so intensely felt that their very longing for Lohengrin seemed to have brought him into being, a dream become reality. But, then, the folk cannot afford to doubt him. Their whole conception of life's meaning is realised in the consolation he gives.

Elsa, however, is not in full harmony with the folk:

Was er vergirbt, wohl braecht' es ihm Gefahren,
vor aller Welt spraech' es hier aus sein Mund: -
die er errettet, weh' mir Undankbaren!
verrieth' ich ihn, dass hier es werde kund. -
Wuesst' ich sein Loos, ich wollt' es treu bewahren;
im Zweifel doch erbebt des Herzens Grund!
(Act II, Scene 5; GS II, 97)
[It might well bring him danger, were he to tell his secret here to all the world; woe is me, ingrate that I am! If I, whom he saved, should betray him and cause it to be known! If I knew his secret, I would guard it truly! Yet my heart trembles, filled with doubt!]

Like the folk, Elsa fears that exposure of Lohengrin's identity may endanger him, but, unlike the folk, she desires knowledge of Lohengrin's identity. What Elsa has here said has the most immense consequences not only for "Lohengrin" but for all of Wagner's future operas, for Elsa wants to share with her lover prohibited knowledge of his secret identity, offering to keep his secret if he will share it with her. She would disobey the letter of his law in order to preserve its spirit.

But she is filled with doubt. She may wonder why Lohengrin's love for her depends upon her fearful maintenance of a breakable taboo, and whether Ortrud's warning that Lohengrin may leave her might be true. Also, if Elsa did, figuratively speaking, kill Godfrey by giving him God's - i.e., Nature's - forbidden knowledge, she may instinctively grasp that Lohengrin perjures himself for her sake and that his magic depends upon deceit, as Ortrud said. Since falsehood must ultimately fail when confronted with truth, Ortrud may be right to suggest that the salvation that Lohengrin offers is only temporary. If Lohengrin depends on deceit, we can grant justice to Frederick's complaint that while he himself is free to proclaim his true identity, Lohengrin is not (Act II, Scene 5). Lohengrin's dependence on a fearful, breakable taboo implies that he is not divine.
Site Admin
Posts: 434
Joined: Tue Apr 19, 2011 11:03 am

Return to General Discussion

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 4 guests