TitleThe path of Wagner’s Wotan

NameGuhl-Miller, Solomon R. (author)Johnson, Douglas (chair)Grave, Floyd (internal member)Kirkman, Andrew (internal member)Grey, Thomas (outside member)Rutgers UniversityGraduate School – New Brunswick

Date Created2012


One central question which has plagued studies of Wagner’s Ring for over a century is “What philosophy does the Ring espouse?” “Is the Ring Feuerbachian or Schopenhauerian?” is a question that has been echoed in works by some of the most famous scholars of Wagner, including Theodor Adorno and Carl Dahlhaus. But by searching for the philosophy only in the different versions of Brünnhilde’s farewell we ignore the overall moral-philosophical progression which leads to their respective end-points, espoused not only by both philosophers but by their predecessors as well. Rather than asking the either/or question, this study examines the philosophical tradition of the Enlightenment and German Idealism to identify a moral-philosophical progression that was common to the writings of Feuerbach, Schopenhauer, and ultimately, Wagner. The first part of this study elucidates the four stages of this progression (leading from selfish living to self-sacrifice) and describes its various manifestations prior to Wagner. The remaining parts of the study examine Wagner’s own presentation of this “Moral Progression” (as I shall call it). The second part analyzes his prose writings up to and through the composition of the Ring libretti. The final part deals with his use of the progression in the Ring libretti and the music of the Ring with a particular focus on the character of Wotan and the music associated with him. Prior to my analysis of the Ring itself, the final part traces the shifts in Wotan’s character from the early drafts of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre to the final version of the Ring, showing his development from Byronic hero, to Faustian figure, and finally, to embodying the four stages of the Moral Progression itself through his character development over the course of the four Ring operas. If the Ring has a central message, then, it is to be found in Wotan’s re-enactment of the moral life advocated by Wagner and his philosophical predecessors.

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