Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 September 2020
Gender and sexuality were crucial to Wagner’s Ring even before a note was written; his aesthetic theories for nascent music drama were gendered from the start, with text the male sperm that fertilizes music-as-woman. Wagner’s attitudes to gender were in many ways typical of his time, with active man situated above passive woman in the biological and social hierarchy. But his works are more complex and even found supporters among contemporary feminists. In fact, it is often his female characters who act, not the men, and it is the women who restore order when men trigger chaos. Wagner himself saw correlations between his sexual life and his work; we here examine instances of congruence and incongruence. We also consider how Wagner’s approach to sexuality in his works influenced the composers, writers and artists who came after him.