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The Perfect Wagnerite, Commentary on the Ring

George Bernard Shaw

Book Overview: 

The Perfect Wagnerite: A Commentary on the Niblung's Ring is a philosophical commentary on Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, by the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw. Shaw offered it to those enthusiastic admirers of Wagner who "were unable to follow his ideas, and do not in the least understand the dilemma of Wotan." He interprets the Ring in Marxian terms as an allegory of the collapse of capitalism from its internal contradictions. Musicologically, his interpretation is noteworthy for its perception of the change in aesthetic direction beginning with the final scene of Siegfried, in which he claimed that the cycle turns from Musikdrama back towards opera. (Introduction by Wikipedia)

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .But Loki is unaffected: he has no moral passion: indignation is as absurd to him as enthusiasm. He finds it exquisitely amusing—having a touch of the comic spirit in him—that the dwarf, in stirring up the moral fervor of Wotan, has removed his last moral scruple about becoming a thief. Wotan will now rob the dwarf without remorse; for is it not positively his highest duty to take this power out of such evil hands and use it himself in the interests of Godhead? On the loftiest moral grounds, he lets Loki do his worst.

A little cunningly disguised flattery makes short work of Alberic. Loki pretends to be afraid of him; and he swallows that bait unhesitatingly. But how, enquires Loki, is he to guard against the hatred of his million slaves? Will they not steal from him, whilst he sleeps, the magic ring, the symbol of his power, which he has forged from the gold of the Rhine? "You think yourself very clever," sneers Alberic, and then begins to boast of . . . Read More

Community Reviews

An interesting take on Richard Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung set of four operas. G. B. Shaw places the ring in a political context, discussing Wagner's broader ideas and how these were tied to the Ring.

That this book is one-sided is well-known -- Bernard Shaw focuses on The Ring overwhelmingly though the lens of his socio-political and economic interests. Nevertheless, it remains one of the greatest and most illuminating commentaries on The Ring written in English, perhaps surpassed only by Cooke'

In 1898 Shaw decided to write this pamphlet, apparently for the purpose of instructing the British people on how to 'correctly' be Wagnerite. He summarizes the plot of the four operas and then provides a bizarre and shallow analysis, whereby the Gods represent the bourgeois industrialist class, and

even better the second time around

Shaw's brief defense of Brynhild's honesty in the face of Odin's corruption means everything to me right now.

A little less on the Ring plot summaries, GB, and a little more on Wagner's philosophies and historic import/influence on music, please. Oh, wait, a rewrite is really really unlikely.

Oh well. As time capsule-like capture of pre-Hitler thinking about Wagner, I doubt this can be beaten. Reading this

The literature on Wagner is vast - you could construct a castle as imposing as Wotan's own with the sheer tonnage of Wagner biographies, critical analyses, and musical exegeses - so I was looking for something digestible that gave an overview of the Ring Cycle's plot, themes, music, and context with

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