Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 September 2020
The men and women we meet in the Ring, via words, music, and stage gesture, span two generations, various rungs in the cosmic hierarchy (god to human, or vice versa), and four dramas. Every character appearing onstage – and most mentioned in the text – receives attention in this chapter. Opening with roots in the natural world, from which each character in one way or another emerges, context, personality, relationships, motivations, and acts are examined, always bearing in mind that, in the Ring, such issues are explored musically as much as verbally, one sometimes in contradiction with the other, and that Wagner’s broader intellectual framework – philosophical, literary, musical, political, religious – also has much to tell us. We must start and end somewhere, of course, but what becomes quickly apparent is that it is the connections between characters – how their deeds, their words, their music shape and affect one another – that propel Wagner’s drama. As we progress, in Wagner’s conception, from Wotan to Brünnhilde; from male patriarch to female rebel; from power politics, through revolution, to renunciation; from Das Rheingold to Götterdämmerung, none of those categories, none of those characters, remains unchanged.