Subtle Anti-Semitism In Wagner’s Ring Of The Nibe Essay
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Subtle Anti-Semitism in Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung
Throughout the centuries, German history and culture has been plagued by anti-Semitic preconceptions. From the Middle Ages and beyond, the German people persecuted the Jews for a vast array of reasons, eventually culminating in the Holocaust during the mid-twentieth century. This baseless racism permeated into every aspect of German life in the mid-nineteenth century, from business to religion, and even into the musical styling of the time, opera. No one quite embodied the anti-Semitic sentiment of the time like the composer Richard Wagner, whose operas appeared to depict themes of love and retribution, but below the surface, symbolized much darker and revolutionary ideas. In his Ring of the Nibelung, Wagner subliminally includes anti-Semitic themes to advance his racist agenda which included the removal of Jews and the conquest of the true German race. Wagner’s anti-Semitism stemmed not from pure hatred, but rather his ideal for a strong, utopian German society, and in his Ring, one can see the meshing of these two ideas in his characters, plot events, music, and through his other writings.
To fully understand the mind that would go on to perpetuate racist ideologies in his works, one must first comprehend the forces that led him to become the Richard Wagner. While some contribute Wagner’s beliefs to his upbringing; a boy unsure of his true father, possibly the bastard child of a Jewish man, one must look to a driving force in his life; German nationalism. Wagner did not believe in anti-Semitism purely for the sake of hatred; as Barry Goldensohn puts it, “Wagner’s anti-Semitism was woven into his idealistic utopian nationalism, whereby Jews, with their racial degeneracy and financial power, threaten to destroy the purity of German-Volk based culture and of the Nordic race” (Goldensohn 246). A proponent