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The Ring of the Nibelung
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Three Scene One is a dramatic turning point in the Ring, for Wotan passes the torch, the responsibility of preserving man’s illusion of his transcendent value, from traditional religious belief to secular art, by leaving his daughter Bruennhilde, who holds the key to the secret of the religious mysteries, for the music-dramatist Siegfried to wake. Virtually every sentence in Wotan’s dialogue with Erda is deeply meaningful (and steeped in Wagner’s musical motifs, which hugely amplify the resonance of the words they accompany), linking this passage conceptually not only with the entirety of the Ring plot but also with Wagner’s other repertory operas and music-dramas.

George Bernard Shaw famously described the Ring as a thinking man’s allegory whose subject was the coming political and social revolution in Europe, a revolution produced by the evil effects of rampant capitalism and greed for money and power. Shaw’s reading is, of course, to some extent accurate, but Shaw himself admitted it could only be applied to the first two thirds of the Ring. [Shaw; p. 76-78] In truth, Shaw based most of his interpretation on a metaphorical reading of approximately one thirtieth of the Ring, Scene Three of The Rhinegold (in which Wotan and Loge visit Alberich and his fellow Nibelungs in Nibelheim), and general knowledge about Wagner’s revolutionary activities in 1849. That this reading has become a major stumbling block to understanding was illustrated by one of the participants in a seminar on Wagner I attended in Chicago many years ago, who informed me after a provocative lecture that it was too bad Wagner couldn’t have engaged Shaw to write the Ring libretto for him, since in that case Shaw would have gotten it right and made the last third of the Ring consistent with the first two thirds. Consistent with Shaw, at least!

Shaw argued that Wagner’s alleged inconsistency was due to the fact that the libretto of Twilight of the Gods, the last part of the four-part Ring drama, was the first part of the Ring to be completed, and that it therefore still contained elements drawn from conventional romantic opera from which Wagner finally emancipated himself by the time he wrote The Rhinegold, the last part of the four-part Ring to be completed. This might seem convincing until we recall that Wagner himself acknowledged [See 811W] that the plot of Tristan and Isolde, a full-fledged music-drama written after Wagner had completed the entire libretto of the Ring and two thirds of its music, is virtually identical to the plot of Twilight of the Gods. Though we can all agree that there are holdovers from his romantic opera days in Twilight of the Gods which Wagner would leave out of his subsequent music-dramas, evidently this plot which the Ring and Tristan and Isolde share was central to Wagner’s concept of the revolutionary music-drama, something which distinguished it from romantic opera. In his too-strict adherence to a topical reading of the Ring as an allegory of 19th Century social, political, and economic revolution, Shaw had blinded himself to this fundamental aspect of Wagner’s whole conception of music-drama.

The Jungian Robert Donington had several signal insights into the Ring’s allegorical logic which will be detailed in the course of this study. The first of these will serve for illustration. Donington surmised that Alberich’s rejection by the Rhinedaughters, his renunciation of love, and forging of the Ring of power represents an important stage in the evolution of human consciousness. [Donington: P. 60] His insight led me to consider the possibility that Alberich’s Ring represents the human mind itself. Donington described Alberich’s Ring as Wagner’s metaphor for the “Self” in its Jungian sense, i.e. the entire human being, both good and bad, both conscious and unconscious. [Donington: P. 227-228] This has been one of the most beneficial influences on my own interpretation. However, Donington failed to follow up this insight. The remainder of his book,

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