Waltraute: (#82:) Is this your loyalty (:#82)? (#51:) So, in grief, would you lovelessly send your sister away (:#51)?
Bruennhilde: (#82:) Betake yourself hence; (#51:) fly off on your horse: you’ll never take the ring from me (:#82; :#51)!
Waltraute: (#97/#79:) Alas! [“Wehe!”]! Alas! Woe betide you, sister (:#97/#79)! (#161:) Woe betide Valhalla’s gods (:#161)!
(#78b; #77/#78a >>>: She rushes away. A stormcloud can soon be seen rising from the pinewood.)
And now we are dramatically and motivally reminded that Bruennhilde and Siegfried are the guardians and trustees of Wotan’s confession of his terrible hoard of runes because, as Waltraute complains in despair that Bruennhilde is being disloyal and unloving toward her and the gods, by consigning them to destruction, we hear again the motifs first heard in conjunction during Wotan’s explosion of despair in V.2.2, an explosion which elicited Bruennhilde’s plea that Wotan confide in her, make confession of his divine “Noth” (anguish, need) to her. These are Motif #82 (Wotan’s rebellion, which is based on Alberich’s Rebellion Motif #47), Alberich’s Ring Curse Motif #51, and Motif #79, associated in V.2.1 with Fricka’s warning that in aiding the Waelsungs’ rebellion against the gods’ laws Wotan will be undermining their rule (which is based in turn upon Motif #58b, first heard in R.2 when Wotan declared that his fortress Valhalla would be a refuge from fear and dread, i.e., fear and dread of Alberich’s curse on his Ring). In other words, Wotan’s confession, which could remain unspoken so long as Bruennhilde remained its safe repository, and Alberich’s Ring (whose curse Bruennhilde could neutralize so long as she kept its power safe, as Siegfried had unwittingly achieved in giving it to her), are shortly going to be betrayed to the light of day by Siegfried, who in just a moment will penetrate Bruennhilde’s ring of protective fire to forcibly take possession of her in order to give her as wife to Gunther (while posing as Gunther, thanks to the Tarnhelm), and to forcibly take the Ring out of her protective hands.
It might be assumed that had Bruennhilde restored Alberich’s Ring to the Rhinedaughters prior to Siegfried’s abduction of her, she could have preempted it, but there are reasons for believing that Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s betrayal of their love (i.e., the betrayal of Wotan’s unspoken secret, which Bruennhilde kept, to the light of day) are the fated precondition for restoring the Ring to the Rhinedaughters. In fact, there are good reasons for believing that Wotan dispatched Waltraute to persuade Bruennhilde to restore Alberich’s Ring to the Rhinedaughters to end its curse because he knows that Siegfried has betrayed their love, which can no longer redeem the gods, and that there is therefore risk that Alberich and/or Hagen will regain the Ring and take power unless Bruennhilde preempts this by restoring the Ring to the Rhinedaughters, and thereby returning the world to the innocent state in which it began in R.1 before Alberich stole the Rhinegold and forged the Ring of power. But it is certain that by the time he whispers to Waltraute to prompt her to influence Bruennhilde to restore the Ring to the Rhinedaughters, Wotan has renounced the hope he once had that Alberich’s curse could be ended through the love which Siegfried and Bruennhilde share, as he expressed it to Erda in S.3.1 accompanied by the World Inheritance Motif #134. Redemption from the Ring curse by the Rhinedaughters is therefore wholly distinct from the redemption through love (allegorically, inspired secular art) which Wotan hoped for in S.3.1, and which is symbolized by Motif #134.
(Bruennhilde shrinks back in terror, fleeing to the front of the stage, from where she fixes her gaze on Siegfried in speechless astonishment.)
Bruennhilde: (#42 end frag >>:) Who forced his way here (:#42 end)?
(Siegfried remains on the rock at the back, observing Bruennhilde and resting motionlessly on his shield. Long silence. #154; #152)
Siegfried: (with a disguised – rougher – voice: #42 end frag:) Bruennhilde (:#42 end frag)! (#154:) A suitor has come, whom your fire did not frighten. (#154:) I woo you as my wife (:#154); (#152:) follow me of your own will (:#152)!
Bruennhilde: (trembling violently) Who is the man (#161:) who has done what only the (#42 end frag:) strongest was fated to do (:#161; :#42 end)? (#19b? [as if #19 has an end frag, or #42?])
Siegfried: (motionless as before: #154:) A hero who’ll tame you (:#154), (#152:) if force alone can constrain you (:#152).
Bruennhilde: (seized with horror) A demon has leaped on to yonder stone; - (#161 vari >> an eagle came flying to tear at my flesh (:#161 vari)! Who are you, dread creature? (long silence: #42) Are you of human kind? Are you from Hella’s night-dwelling host? (#154)
Bruennhilde has suggested Siegfried (disguised as Gunther thanks to the Tarnhelm #42, and influenced by Hagen thanks to Hagen’s potion #154, #154 being a variant of #42, and both stemming ultimately from Loge’s Motif #35) is from “Hella’s night-dwelling host, i.e., that Siegfried is from Alberich’s hellish Nibelheim, and that Siegfried is therefore a Nibelung, part of Alberich’s host of night, which Alberich threatened would storm Valhalla. Bruennhilde is unwittingly referencing Alberich’s prophecy that he would one day compel the gods’ heroes to fight against them (as his son Hagen has prompted Wotan’s hoped-for hero and redeemer Siegfried to do), that he would force himself on the gods’ women without love (as Siegfried is doing to Bruennhilde under Hagen’s influence), and that his hoard (now embodied by Alberich’s Ring, which Siegfried is forcing out of Bruennhilde’s protective hands, to expose it to the light of day and bring its curse, and therefore the twilight of the gods, back into play) would some day rise from the silent depths (Bruennhilde is now that silent depth) into the light of day.
Bruennhilde, when she compares the disguised Siegfried to an eagle who has come flying to tear at her flesh, by the way, alludes to Prometheus, bound on the mountaintop by Zeus (comparable to Wotan), to have his liver eternally eaten (a wound that will never heal) by an eagle or vulture to punish Prometheus for having stolen the gods’ prerogative, fire, and for having stolen the gods’ other prerogatives, like the power of mind, of foresight, of reflective consciousness, and given these to mortal man. This is an act of rebellion against the gods in favor of mortals which calls to mind not only, obviously, Bruennhilde’s challenge to Wotan’s law in favor of the Waelsungs, but also Satan’s rebellion against God, and also brings to mind the Biblical Fall itself, Eve’s breach of God’s injunction not to eat of the fruit of knowledge or share it with Adam. Recall the title of my online book: "The Wound That Will Never Heal." My thesis is that man’s wound that will never heal is actually what distinguishes him from all other sentient creatures, his power of reflective consciousness, his symbolic mind, which grants him the privilege and advantage of thinking ahead, but also the existential angst of being able to foresee his inevitable death. All religious belief, in a sense, can be traced back to man’s fear of death and his quest for antidotes to it. Thus some religions offer immortality (Freia’s golden apples of sorrowless youth eternal which belong to the gods, and which the gods can share with their chosen heroes in Valhalla).
But this wound that will never heal, the very thing that distinguishes man as man from all other things that live, which so multiplies itself to infinity in a property of the human mind, its gift of generalization and symbolism, that it automatically reifies its nature, which seems to it infinite (because, while man is mortal like his fellow non-symbolic animals, man’s imagination can transcend the limits of man’s body, extending itself infinitely in time and space), so that man can imagine a human-like consciousness which is not constrained by the limits of nature, of his body, or of his single mind or ego, and posits this imagined mind as God. This is what Kant described as man’s ineradicable metaphysical impulse. And it is this that I call man’s existential dilemma, man’s need to posit transcendent meaning and value even in the face of the fact that it is purely imagined, not real. In other words, through this fateful quality of mind, man strives for the impossible, and predicates his happiness on the impossible. This is the very basis for the crime Alberich accused Wotan of committing, Wotan’s sin against all that was, is, and will be, i.e., against the objective world, the truth, the crime which Alberich’s curse on his Ring (the curse of consciousness) is intended to punish. This propensity of the human mind to posit the impossible and look to this for its salvation is predestined to be humbled (this is the whole plot of the "Ring").
Prometheus (whose name in Greek means “foresight” or “foreknowledge” in English) is the mythic symbol for the gift of the human mind, which is the true, authentic cause of what Genesis describes as our fall from grace with God by striving to acquire his power of mind without, however, acquiring his autonomy from the laws of nature. Wagner surely was aware of the analogy of his Bruennhilde and Prometheus Bound. But not only that, Prometheus was said to possess secret knowledge of the inevitable fall of the Gods of Olympus, and of the hero (Herakles, whom Wagner himself compared to Siegfried) who would bring this fall about, just as Bruennhilde is the repository of Wotan’s confession of the terrible knowledge which Mother Earth, Erda, imparted to him, of the inevitability of the gods’ doom. There is a passage in Prometheus Bound in which Prometheus describes himself as having aided mortal man by granting him the ability not to foresee death, i.e., the ability to cease to foresee death. In other words, the very hero who granted mankind the ability to foresee his death also granted him the ability to forget it. I suspect this refers to those expedients in religious belief and art and even science through which mankind finds antidotes to his fear of death, expedients which religious societies construe as divine in origin. In any case, I have already noted that by virtue of figuratively giving birth to Siegfried as Wotan reborn, minus consciousness of his true identity, which Bruennhilde knows for Siegfried so Siegfried can remain safely unconscious of it, Bruennhilde frees Siegfried from fear of the end which Wotan foresaw, and which paralyzed Wotan into inaction. Wagner virtually confirms this much later in T.2.5 when Bruennhilde confesses to Hagen and Gunther that through her magic Siegfried, unbeknownst to himself, is protected only at the front from wounds. I would submit that these are the wounds of foresight, the wounds of consciousness, Alberich’s curse on his Ring.
Siegfried: (as before, beginning with a somewhat quavering voice but continuing with increasing confidence) A Gibichung am I, (#101 frag:; #152:) and Gunther’s the name of the hero whom, woman, you must follow (:#101 frag; :#152).
This is Wagner’s metaphor for the fact that, in giving his own muse of unconscious artistic inspiration away to his audience, represented by Gunther, and in fact taking on Gunther’s form through the power of the Tarnhelm, Siegfried the music-dramatist is figuratively making himself indistinguishable from his audience, and therefore sharing with his audience the profoundest secret of his formerly unconscious artistic inspiration, Wotan’s hoard of runes, Wotan’s unspoken secret. In fact Wagner himself stated that through the Wonder of his musical motifs of foreboding and remembrance he could make his audience fellow knowers of his own profoundest artistic secrets, secrets which Wagner stated elsewhere might not be known even to the authentic artist himself, since his own art might remain as much a mystery to him as to his audience.
Bruennhilde: (breaking out in despair: #81B varis >>:) Wotan, grim-hearted, pitiless god (:#81B)! (#164:) Now I see the sense of my sentence (:#164): (#161 >>:) to scorn and sorrow you hound me hence (:#161)!
I have mentioned previously that, as Deryck Cooke demonstrated, motifs #137 and #164 are baroque variants of motif #81, a fact Wagner musically dramatizes here by introducing #164 with its original form #81. #81B is a form of #81 specifically associated by Wagner in V.3 with Wotan’s punishment of Bruennhilde for living for love when Wotan himself had given up hope to be redeemed by it, because Wotan saw that his allegedly free hero Siegmund was merely a product of Wotan’s own fear of the end. Bruennhilde, as Wotan had first warned, now sees herself being being sexually enslaved to a strange man wholly unworthy of her love (Siegfried posing as Gunther), but in fact it is Wotan’s longed-for hero and savior Siegfried who is betraying her and unwittingly bringing Wotan’s original threatened punishment to its natural conclusion, for motif #164 represents Wotan’s own recognition that the artist-hero Siegfried has failed to redeem the gods for the same reason Siegmund did, that both are products of Wotan’s own fear of the gods’ end.
Bruennhilde: (threateningly stretching out the finger on which she wears Siegfried’s ring: Keep away! Fear this token! (#84:; #19 vari >>:) You’ll never force me into shame (#45:; #42 end frag:) as long as this ring protects me (:#84; :#45; :#42 end frag; :#19 vari).
Siegfried: (#51:) To wrest it from you you teach me now (:#51).
(He makes to attack her. They struggle. Bruennhilde breaks free, runs away and then turns to defend herself. #161/#77; #161/#77; #150; #51; #77/#161; #51. He seizes her by the hand and tears the ring from her finger. Bruennhilde screams violently. #143. As she sinks down in his arms, as though broken, her gaze unconsciously meets Siegfried’s. #149. He lowers her fainting body on to the stone terrace outside the rocky chamber. #42 end frag)
Bruennhilde tries to wield the ring Siegfried gave her in token of their loving union, the very Ring of power Alberich cursed so that none but himself could use its authentic power, but she can’t protect herself both because their love has converted it from a Ring of power back into a symbol of aesthetic delight (like the original pre-curse Rhinegold from which it was forged) and of love, but also because the Rhinedaughters’ original statement that anyone who could forge the Rhinegold into a Ring by cursing love would win world power, was in the first place merely a metaphorical description of the power of the symbolic human mind, which has conditional power over the world, a power which can be accumulated over time through the acquisition of a hoard of knowledge, but not the unconditional power of a god of the imagination.
As Bruennhilde declares that Siegfried will never force her into shame, we hear Motif #84, first heard during Wotan’s V.2.2 confession to Bruennhilde in association with Wotan’s remark that he can only make serfs, not a free hero, and that Wotan finds with loathing only always himself in all that he undertakes to do. Siegfried is now proving himself to be one of those serfs, just as inspired secular art is merely a refinement of religious faith’s fear of the objective truth, an elaboration of Wotan’s sin against all that was, is, and will be, which Alberich’s curse on his Ring will punish. It is no accident that as Siegfried forces Alberich’s Ring off of Bruennhilde’s finger and out of her protective hands, we hear Motifs #150, the motival symbol of Wotan’s hoard of runes which Bruennhilde imparted to Siegfried (while nonetheless leaving him untaught), #143 (the Hoard of the World Motif), which informs us that Siegfried has inherited Wotan’s hoard of knowledge which he acquired while wandering the world, i.e., while wandering over the Earth (Erda), and #149, the motif which is the emblem for Bruennhilde’s status as the muse of inspiration for Siegfried’s new adventures, i.e., creation and production of redemptive works of art.
(#151b: Siegfried drives her away with a gesture of command. Trembling and with faltering steps, she returns to the chamber. #50; #164; #50; #164; Siegfried draws his sword. [[ #165 ]]; #21/#57)
Siegfried: (in his natural voice: #157:) Now, Nothung, (#155:) attest that I wooed her chastely (:#157; :#155): (#156) (#160:) keeping faith with my brother (:#160), (#57) keep me apart from his bride! [[ #165 ]] (He follows Bruennhilde. #42 end frag; #154; #149; #165; #42 end frag: The curtain falls.)
Siegfried’s Sword Nothung’s Motif #57 (which stands for Wotan’s great idea, of how he would employ a race of mortals to do what he could not do, retrieve Alberich’s Ring from Fafner so that Alberich could not regain it and use its power to destroy the gods, and restore lost innocence) and Wotan’s Spear Motif #21 (standing for Wotan’s divine authority and law, which Siegfried’s sword broke) are strikingly conjoined here as Siegfried, accompanied by Motif #164 (standing for Wotan’s recognition that Siegfried will fail just as Siegmund failed, since both were mere functions of Wotan’s fear and guilt, his sin against all that was, is, and will be, and thus subject to Alberich’s Ring curse), now uses his Phallic sword Nothung for the opposite purpose for which it was intended. Motif #57 is primarily based on the Primal Nature Motif #1 with which the Ring began, and as such is a symbol of that innocent time before the Fall, before man’s acquisition of consciousness, symbolized both by Alberich’s stealing of the Rhinegold and forging of his Ring of power, and by Wotan’s breaking a sacred branch off of the World-Ash Tree in order to make his spear of divine authority and law.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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