Wagner's Sources - 1
Written by Jane Ennis
This takes the form it does because it was developed froma version of Chapter II of my Ph.D. thesis which I first of all e-mailedto the OPERA-L list,and which wasthen added to the WagnerArchive by its maintainer, Hannu Salmi.
The full title of my thesis is
Click on this image to visit the WILLIAMMORRIS HOME PAGE
Date: Mon, 24 Apr 1995 18:28:00BST
Sender: "OPERA-L: Discussion ofopera and related issues" opera-l"listserv.cuny.edu From: Jane Ennis firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Re: Wagner's Sources
Are you all still interestedin this? I ask because the discussion seems to have moved on a bit, butDavid's original request was for discussion of the sources of the operas.
I'll send a few paras. of Chapter2 of my thesis, and if enough people are interested, I'll send more ina few days. If anyone wants to use this in their teaching or discussion,please don't forget to acknowledge the origin!
SOURCES IN MEDIEVAL LITERATUREOF WAGNER'S "DER RING DES NIBELUNGEN" AND WILLIAM MORRIS'S "SIGURD THEVOLSUNG"
(You may not be interested in"Sigurd", but the way I wrote it, it integrates the texts and it's toocomplicated to disentangle the threads now!)
The sources common to Morrisand Wagner are
End of Intro!
Part 1 follows in next posting.
Dr. Jane Susanna Ennis
University of London
(More or less verbatim from Ch.2of my thesis - it starts from the perspective of Morris's poem - hope itbecomes clear as the tale develops).
Book One of SIGURD THE VOLSUNG,subtitled SIGMUND, introduced Sigurd's family and background. A brief outlineof the story, based closely on VOLSUNGA SAGA (hereinafter known as VS).
VOLSUNG has 10 sons and a daughter,SIGNY. Signy, somewhat against her will, yet accepting the decrees of theNorns, marries King SIGGEIR. The wedding is held in Volsung's hall. Duringthe wedding feast, an old man (ODIN in disguise) enters the hall and plungesas sword into the tree round which Volsung's hall is built, saying thatit belongs to the man who can draw it from the tree. Only Volsung's son, SIGMUND (Signy's twin, according to Wagner, but not acc. to VS or Morris)is able to so this. Siggeir offers to buy the sword from him; his offeris scornfully rejected. He returns home with Signy, plotting vengeance.He invites Volsung and his sons to visit him; Volsung accepts, though hesuspects that Siggeir means him no good. Volsung is killed by Siggeir'smen; his sons are captured, and killed one by one, until only Sigmund isleft. Signy helps him to escape, and he lives as an exile in the forestuntil Signy sends him her sons by Siggeir, for him to test their courage,to see if they are able to help the Volsungs to their revenge; Sigmundasks the boys to bake bread for the evening meal, but they are both frightenedby the viper concealed in the meal-sack. At Signy's behest, Sigmund killsthem both.
Signy now changes shapes witha witch, and in this guise she shares her brother's bed. Their son, SINFJOLTI,helps them to their revenge. Sigmund doesn't know the identity of Sinfjolti'smother until they have set fire to Siggeir's hall; then Signy tells Sigmundthat Sinfjolti is the son of an incestuous union between them. She choosesto die beside her husband; her vengeance is now complete, and she has nothingleft to live for.
To be continued.........
Sigmund returns home with Sinfjolti.He marries a woman called BORGHILD , who quarrels with Sinfjolti and poisonshim.
After Sinfjolti's death, Sigmundmarries HJORDIS. He has to fight against King LYNGVI, who had also wantedto marry her. He is killed in the battle, when Odin intervenes and causesSigmund's sword to shatter against his spear. Hjordis joins Sigmund onthe battlefield and is able to speak to him before he dies; he tells herthat the child she is expecting is a boy, and that she is to keep the piecesof the sword for him. When Hjordis's child is born, he is given the nameSIGURD. Great things are prophesied for him.
Morris retells this tale in considerabledetail in Book One of "Sigurd the Volsung". In Wagner's RING most of thismaterail appear - in a somewhat mutated form - in the first act of DIEWALKUERE. The principal differences are these:
(a) The names of the incestuouspair are Siegmund and Sieglinde. (Coincidentally, these are the names ofSiegfried's parents in NL, though there it is nowhere suggested that heis the child of an incestuous union; the poet probably gave them thesenames for reasons of euphony.)
(b) The union of the twins appearsto be spontaneous and unplanned, though we learn in Act II of DIE WALKUEREthat Wotan had planned it for reasons of his own.
(In VS, Signy plans the incestuousunion in order that she and her family shall be revenged on Siggeir. Herbrother in unaware of her identity until much later).
(c) In VS, PE and NL, Siegfried/Sigurdis not the child of an incestuous union, nor is he an orphan. In TS, hismother - Sisibe - dies in giving birth to him, but in VS and PE he is thechild of Sigmund's second marriage, and in NL he is the heir to a royalhouse.
-------------------------------------------------------That's an outline of the background in VOLSUNGA SAGA. I go on to discussWagner's version and Morris's version in detail, comparing the texts lineby line, and so on. Do you want to know this, or shall I skip to Part 2; the childhood and youth of Sigurd?
I would like to have some feedback,because I don't want to sit here laboriously typing this out if peoplearen't interested!
I did this research because Ithought (and still think!) that a knowledge of the sources is importantin Wagner studies (and Morris studies, of course!) - you need to know whatthe sources are to understand how Wagner altered and adapted them. Butthe RING is very complicated, as far as use of source material is concerned- and I'm not sure if this is what people really want to know.
I also touched on Wagner's useof motifs and ideas from Greek tragedy - anyone interested in discussingthat as well/ instead?
LET ME HAVE FEEDBACK!
This is a brief note to takeup David Mann's point about J.R.R. Tolkien. I'm not an enthusiast for Tolkien(sorry, David - and sorry, Ambrose!) - I have been at pains to suggestthat William Morris might have been an artist of comparable stature toWagner. It was Morris in the 19th. century who conceived the idea of -not exactly providing Britain with a NEW mythology, but giving the Norseand Teutonic myths the stature of Classical Mythology.
I will continue with the outlineof the sources of the RING and SIGURD THE VOLSUNG in my next mailing -if I get sufficient positive feedback!
Dr. Jane Susanna Ennis
University of London
Reply-To: "OPERA-L: Discussionof opera and related issues" OPERA-L@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU
Sender: "OPERA-L: Discussionof opera and related issues" OPERA-L@CUNYVM.CUNY.EDU
From: Jane Ennis email@example.com
Subject: Re: Wagner's Sources
Just some general observations- I'll continue with the mailings in a day or two.
Most of you have sent very positivefeedback - obviously an encouragement to continue! I am glad so many opera-lmembers are interested. Please let me know if you are interested in learningmore about William Morris's SIGURD - it just so happens (what a surprise!)that there is an edition of SIGURD with an introduction by me, which waspublished in the U.K. last year, and is probably available in the Statesby now - I will send the bibliographical information with my next posting.
Some readers (Alan?) questionedthe relevance of examining Wagner's sources. Uh - well, it got me a Ph.D!!But seriously - for me it was rather a circular process, I suppose. BecauseI loved Wagner's operas, I became interested in the sources, i.e. in medievalliterature - in fact I ended up by doing an M.A. in Medieval Studies, butthen I decided that I was mainly interested in Medieval literature as itwas perceived by the 19th. century.... are you still with me!
I have mentioned that most academicmedievalists disapprove of Wagner, because they feel that Wagner misinterpretedthe medieval texts. Well, he certainly re-interpreted them in order tofit his dramatic purposes, but a re-interpretation isn't NECESSARILY amisinterpretation. (If you stick with me long enough, I shall argue thathe may have misinterpreted the Nibelungenlied, but that's a small point.)
Thanks again for all the positivefeedback - will be in touch shortly.
In response to overwhelming populardemand :) ! I will continue with the discussion of Wagner's sources fromwhere I broke off yesterday.
The chapter continues with discussionof the episode in VS in which Odin interrupts the wedding feast to placethe sword in the tree. I quoted the relevant bit of the Saga (Morris'strans! not the original Old Norse ) in a footnote - I won't reproduce thathere, as it is quite easy to get hold of (via your public or Universitylibrary) and there is also a more recent translation (1965 I think) byR.G. Finch which has the advantage of being a parallel text, with the O.N.on the left-hand side.
What I will quote is Morris'sversion, so you can see how it compares with Wagner; but you must let meknow if you actually want to know this, since the original question wasabout Wagner's sources - it just so happens that they are Morris's sourcesas well. So Signy is married against her will to Siggeir - the weddingtakes place in Volsung's hall, which is built round a tree called the Branstock.
Then into the Volsung dwellinga mighty man there strode,
One-eyed and seeming ancient,yet bright his visage glowed;
Cloud-blue was the hood uponhim, and his kirtle gleaming-grey
As the latter morning sun-dogwhen the storm is on the way;
A bill he bore on his shoulder,whose mighty ashen beam
Burnt bright with the flameof the sea and the blended silver's gleam.
So strode he to the Branstocknor greeted any lord,
But forth from his cloudyraiment he drew a gleaming sword,
And smote it deep in thetree-bole, and the wild hawks overhead
Laughed 'neath the nakedheaven as at last he spake and said;
"Earls of the Goths, andVolsungs, abiders on the earth,
Lo there amid the Branstocka blade of plenteous worth!
The folk of the war-wandsforgers wrought never better steel
Since first the burg of heavenuprose for man-folk's weal.
Now let the man among youwhose heart and hand may shift
To pluck it from the oakwoode'en take it for my gift
Upstood the earls of Siggier,and each man drew anigh
And deemed his time was comingfor a glorious gain and high;
But for all their mightyshaping and their deeds in the battle-wood,
No looser in the Branstockthat gift of Odin stood....
At last by the hand of theBranstock Sigmund the Volsung stood,
And with right hand wisein battle the precious sword-hilt caught,
Yet in a careless fashion,as he deemed it all for nought;
When lo, from floor to rafterthe naked blade shone out
As high o'er his head heshook it; for the sword had come away
>From the grip of the heartof the Branstock, as though all loose it lay.
Morris keeps close to the outlineof the episode in VS; in the RING, the central events are similar, butthey serve a different purpose in the development of the story.
To be continued......
In DIE WALKUERE, Sieglinde ismarried against her will to Hunding. The wedding takes places in his home,not hers;
Der Maenner Sippe sass hier imSaal
von Hunding zur Hochzeit geladen.
Er freite ein Weib das, ungefragt,
Schaecher ihm schenkten zurFrau.
(Die Walkuere, Act I)
The arrival of the old man (Wotan/Waelse)with the sword resembles in outline the scene in the Saga (Incidentally,it may be worth pointing out that these events do not form part of theNIBELUNGENLIED, for reasons which I shall explain if we get that far!)
Ein Fremder trat da herein,
ein Greis in grauem Gewand;
tief hing ihm der Hut,
der deckt' ihm der Augen eines.....
Auf mich blickt' er, und blitzteauf jene,
Als ein Schwert in Haenden erschwang;
das stiess er nun in der EscheStamm,
bis zum Heft haftet' es drin.
Dem sollte der Stahl geziemen,
der aus dem Stamm es zoeg'.
(Die Walkuere, Act I)
And, as you know, no-one canremove the sword, since Wotan has destined it for Siegmund, in the mistakenbelief that Siegmund will be the free hero whom the gods need.
As I indicated in the earlierpostings, what happens in VS after Sigmund has gained the sword is thatVolsung and all his children except Signy and Sigmund are killed by Siggeir,and Signy changes shapes with a sorceress and in this guise share Sigmund'sbed - their son is SINFJOLTI, not Sigurd! In Morris's poem, Signy makesit clear before she dies that she planned to conceive Sinfjolti for onereason only;
For hear thou; that Sinfjolti,who hath wrought out our desire,
Who hath compassed aboutKing Siggeir with this sea of a deadly fire,
Who brake thy grave asunder- my child and thine he is,
Begot in that house of theDwarf-kind for no other end than this;
The son of Volsung's daughter,the son of Volsung's son.
Look, look! might anotherhelper this deed with thee have done?
The Saga tells the story as follows(in Morris's trans.)
But she answered: "Take heed,now, and consider if I have kept King Siggeir in memory, and his slayingof Volsung the king! I let slay both my children, whom I deemed worthlessfor the revenging of our father; and I went into the wood to thee in awitch-wife's shape; and now, behold, Sinfjolti is the son of thee and meboth! and therefore has he this so great hardihood and fierceness, in thathe is the son both of Volsung's son and Volsung's daughter; and for this,and for naught else, have I so wrought, that Siggeir might get his baneat last; and all these things have I done that vengeance may fall on him,and that I too might not live long; and merrily now will I die with KingSiggeir, though I was naught merry to wed him."
Therewith she kissed Sigmundher brother, and Sinfjolti, and went back again into the fire, and thereshe died with Siggeir and all his men.
(VOLSUNGA SAGA, Morris's translation)
To be continued - I hope youare still interested!
In this mailing I shall discussSigmund's death as it is narrated in VS and in Morris's poem. In the Norseliterature, Sigmund is killed in his last battle by Odin, but the contextis very different from the death of Siegmund in DIE WALKUERE.
By the time of the last battle,Sigmund is an old man. (It is worth remembering that only in Wagner doesthis character die young; in DAS NIBELUNGENLIED (hereinafter known as NL)Siegfried's father actually survives him.) Back to VS - Sigmund has marriedHjordis, and now has to fight against King Lyngvi, who had also wantedto marry her - she had chosen Sigmund in preference, although he was old,because of his fame as a warrior. Odin intervenes when the fighting hasbeen going on for some time:
But now whenas the battle hasdured a while, there came a man into the fight clad in a blue cloak, andwith a slouched hat on his head, one-eyed he was, and bare a bill in hishand; and he came against Sigmund the King, and hove his bill up againsthim, and as Sigmund smote fiercely with the sword it fell upon the billand burst asunder in the midst; thenceforth the slaughter and dismay turnedto his side, for the good-hap of King Sigmund had departed from him, andhis men fell fast about him; naught did the king spare himself, but herather cheered on his men; but even as the saw says, "No might 'gainstmany", so was it now proven; and in this fight fell Sigmund the King, andKing Eylimi, his father-in-law, in the fore-front of their battle, andtherewith the more part of their folk.
(VOLSUNGA SAGA, Morris's trans.)
There are other instances inNorse literature of Odin withdrawing his favour from his former favouritesat crucial moments; this may be capriciousness, but there are some indicationsthat he is offering them an honourable death in battle rather than thedecrepitude of old age.
As so often, Wagner took theoutward form of the events of heroic legend and invested them with an entirelynew meaning. Siegmund is Wotan's son by a relationship with a mortal woman.Wotan has indeed destined the sword for Siegmund, but it is precisely thisthat proves his undoing. Neither of them is a free agent, though Wotanhas tried to convince himself that they both are.
In VS and in SIGURD THE VOLSUNG,Sigmund's sword is broken, but he is able to speak to his wife before hedies; he asks her to keep the broken pieces of the sword for their son,who is destined to be a great hero. After the birth of Sigurd, Hjordisremarries, and Sigurd grows up happily in the home of his step- father.
The tale tells that Hjordis broughtforth a man-child, who was straightly borne before King Hjalprek, and thenwas the king glad thereof, when he saw the keen eyes in the head of him,and he said that few men would be equal to him or like unto him in anywise. So he was sprinkled with water, and had to name Sigurd, of whom allmen speak with one speech and say that none was ever his like for growthand goodliness. He was brought up in the house of King Hjalprek in greatlove and honour; and so it is, that whenso all the noblest men and greatestkings are named in the olden tales, Sigurd is ever put before them all,for might and prowess, for high mind and stout heart, wherewith he wasfar more abundantly gifted than any man of the northern parts of the world.
VOLSUNGA SAGA , Morris's trans
I'll just add a few more paras.to what I sent before.
Regin offers to foster Sigurd.His offer is accepted, but he is warned;
But think how bright is thisyoungling, and thy guile from him withhold;
For this craft of thine hathshown me that thy heart is grim and cold;
Though three men's live thriceover thy wisdom might not learn....
Regin is aware that he is fatedto die by Sigurd's sword'
But again he laughed and answered;"One day it shall come to pass
That a beardless youth shallslay me; I know the fateful doom;
But nought may I withstandit, as it heaves up dim through the gloom."
This is not suggested in eitherVS or PE.
In SIEGFRIED, it is the Wanderer who prophesies that Mime will forfeit his life to someone who doesn't knowthe meaning of fear;
'Nur wer das Fuerchten nie erfuhr
schmiedet Nothung neu.'
Dein weises Haput wahre vonheut';
verfallen lass' ich es dem
der das Fuerchten nicht gelernt.
(SIEGFRIED, Act I)
Wagner equated his Siegfried with the folk-tale (Maerchen) motif of the youth who was too stupid tolearn what fear is. In the sources, and in Morris's poem, it is not necessary for Sigurd to learn the meaning of fear.
Will have to cut this short now- anyway, that's probably enough for one day!
Continued in Part2.