Richard Wagner’s Ring is an opera that circles around the themes of the earthly love for power, of gaining and loosing. These themes, though present in many mythology-based stories such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s and Joseph Campbell’s, provide the Ring with a unique characteristic that do not only entertain and teaches but also make audiences relate it to real life.
The main plot of the Ring dwells on how Wotan, the king of the Gods, aspire for power and how he pays for it in the end. In the story’s prequel, Wotan gains power by forging a spear made from the branch of the World Ash Tree. In that very spear, he inscribes the treaties that he makes. Those treaties, notably, are the steps of a ladder that he climbed in order to gain the glory of becoming the king of the Gods. In this point, the first part of the story, the Das Rhinegold, starts.
In the beginning of Das Rhinegold, three Rhinemaidens are playing in the Rhine river. Alberich, a Nibelung, meanwhile spies and steals the Rhinegold from the Rhinemaidens. Upon learning that out of the Rhinegold, one can make a ring that will give the bearer full power. However, making such ring requires one to renounce love. Because of anger that results from the taunting of the Rhinemaidens, Alberich has fancied the said ring and makes himself the king of Nibelungen.
After sometime, King Wotan orders the giants Fasolt and Fafner to construct a grand castle in memory of the gods and as a evidence of Wotan’s great power. He promised Freia, the goddess of youth and beauty, as a payment for the castle which will be called the Valhalla. However, the house and home goddess Fricka, Wotan’s wife and Freia’s sister, is enraged by this treaty and urges her husband to look for a worthy replacement for Freia. Because treaties are important for Wotan, he asks the fire god Loge of a replacement that will suffice his end of the deal. Wotan then steals Alberich’s ring, as urged by Loge. Because of this, Alberich is enraged and curses people who possess or seek the ring.
Meanwhile, instead of giving the ring to the giants, Wotan plans to keep it and give the giants a hoard of gold from Alberich’s kingdom as a replacement. However, the giants do not settle on just the hoard of gold but demands of the ring. At the same time, Erda, the goddess of the Earth, appears and warns Wotan of the dark day that the gods are about to face because of the ring. Wotan then gives the ring to the giants who argue on the division of their rewards. In the end of the argument, Fasolt was killed while the ring and the gold end up in the hands of Fafner. This temporarily brings back peace in the world of the gods.
Still, because Wotan desires the ring and cannot get it back from Fafner because of their treaty, he disguises as human and had a pair of twins, Siegmund and Sieglinde, with an immortal woman. He plans to create a hero who could slain Fafner for him and makes him regain the possession of the ring. Moreover, Wotan also had an affair with Erda which results to eight immortal daughters called the Valkyries. He orders the Valkyries to search the most powerful soldiers in the earth in order to protect the Valhalla from the coming danger predicted by Erda. At this point, the Das Rhinegold ends.
The second part, the Die Walküre, starts with the grown-up Siegmund who is being nursed in the house of Hunding, an enemy. Siegmund managed to draws a sword stuck in the bark of an ash tree located near Hunding’s household and rans away with his love and twin sister, Sieglinde, who happens to be Hunding’s wife.
Because Fricka is the goddess of the home, she is angered by the prior event. She urges her husband to let Siegmund die in his next battle. However, Wotan explains to his wife that Siegmund is the only hope of the gods against the coming disaster because the said immortal hero will reclaim the ring for him. But Fricka argues of Siegmund’s inability to reclaim the ring because of several circumstances. Upon agreeing on his wife’s point, he orders one of the Valkyries, Brünhilde, to make Hunding the victor in the next battle.
Brünhilde disagrees on the idea that Wotan orders the death of his son and confronts Siegmund of his coming death. Consequently, upon learning of the peril that lies ahead of him, Siegmund bravely accepts his coming death and told Brünhilde that he is ready to die as long as Sieglinde lives. Because of this bravery, the Valkyrie promises that she will protect the brave hero.
In the battle, Wotan shatters Siegmund’s sword. The hero is killed in the battle and is taken in Valhalla afterwards. Brünhilde, meanwhile, gathers the shatters of the magic sword and brings Sieglinde, with the shattered sword, in the forest. As a punishment, Brünhilde is condemned by Wotan to sleep in a rock surrounded by fire, in the top of the mountain, until a hero brave enough will wake her from her sleep.
On the contrary, Sieglinde, pregnant with Siegmund’s son, is kept by Alberich’s brother, Mime, until she dies because of childbirth. Mime raises Siegfried, Siegmund and Sieglinde’s son, hoping that the child will obtain the ring for himself. Because Siegfried grows as a strong and fearless man, he is able to slain Fafner. He also kills Mime upon learning of his caretaker’s treachery and runs off on a quest to find a girl sleeping in the rock on the top of the mountains.
At this point, Die Walküre ends and the the third and last part of the cycle called Götterdammerung, starts. In this part, Siegfried leaves Brünhilde in order to seek adventure. He ends up in the kingdom of the Gibichungs where he is purposefully charmed to forget Brünhilde. He falls in love with Gutrune, the sister of Gunther, Gibichungs’ king. Moreover, Siegfried promises to capture a woman sleeping on the rock in the mountain top to be Gunther’s wife.
Meanwhile, in Valhalla, Wotan sits on the great hall and orders that the great hall should be filled with kindlings. The king seeks help of Brünhilde but being a mortal woman who is no longer concerned of the fate of the gods, Brünhilde refuses to help. After the visit of the Valhalla to Brünhilde, Siegfried, disguised as Gunther, arrives and carries her to the Gibichungs where she is fated to be married with the king.
Afterwards, Alberich’s son, Hagen, kills Siegfried while on a hunting trip. He plans to steal the ring from Siegfried, but Brünhilde appears and takes the ring from her lover’s fingers. She brings the ring back to the Rhinemaidens and orders that Siegfried’s body should be burned on a funeral pyre. Brünhilde jumps in the funeral pyre while Logen, as ordered by Brünhilde, also consumes Valhalla in his fire form. And at this point, the story of the Ring ends.
Although the story is somewhat magical, we can relate it to real life. The main characters in the Ring, such as Siegfried and Brünhilde, are the embodiments of several kinds of people that we encounter. The plot of the story, moreover, may be based on an unreal setting, which is the world of the deities, but the events and the actions of the characters brought by these events may be compared to what is happening in reality.
For example, the character of Wotan resembles the type of people who has a great desire for power. Not contented with the sword that he has, Wotan contintues to seek for the ring, not noticing how much he is sacrificing in exchange for his goal. Aside from causing the downfall of the two of his cherished children, Siegmund and Brünhilde, he also brought destruction in the doorsteps of the whole kingdom of the deities. Although unwittingly, his too much desire for power and greatness destroys him slowly.
The same thing is true with people who are very much concerned of earthly desires, those people who never endingly seek for their desires. As most people believe, Wotan lives in every one of us. Each of us has an unending search for happiness and contentment. We desire things that we need or want, making a way to lead those things in our paths. However, getting something that we want doesn’t make us stop from wanting. Instead, we wish for other goals that we intend to have as well. And thus, the long, unending story of wanting and having continues.
Moreover, like Wotan, we may not notice how we tend to overlook the things that we already have by concentrating on the things that we desire the most. In the end, we tend to sacrifice the things that are already in our hands in replacement for the things that we thought will make us happy.
But as other characters of the story try to warn Wotan of the destruction that he is facing, other people, as well as circumstances, also warn us how too much of anything can cause trouble in our part. It only lies on our own understanding if we will listen to these warnings or if we will continue to be driven by our inclination to have. We can always refer to the case of Wotan, who is continually warned and reminded by the other deities such Fricka, Erda, and Brunhilde.
Fricka, first and foremost, tries to correct the wrong decisions that Wotan makes because of his greediness to obtain a ring of power that is not truly his. Fricka also warns Wotan of the greediness that he exhibits when he closes a deal with the giants. Fricka, moreover, urges Wotan to correct the mistakes that he commits, such as the case when she asks the king of the Gods to look for a substitute to close the deal that he makes in order to have the Valhalla be built.
Another character that warns Wotan of the coming danger that not only he, but the rest of the gods are facing, is Erda. He constantly reminds the king that the day of doom is coming. It is notable that Wotan has felt the urgency of this warning, but instead of stopping himself from seeking his desire, which is the ring, he still continues to device a plan that will earn him the powerful ring. In the end, Wotan becomes helpless, sitting in the Valhalla while watching the destruction of the whole world of the deities coming because of his unstoppable desire.
Lastly, Brünhilde, who is both a loss and a warning to the king, is another of the characters that shows how a person, blinded by too much wanting, is deaf to the reminders of other concerned people around them. Brünhilde is a warning to Wotan because she tries to make the king understand the mistake of his decision to let Hunding slay his son, Siegmund, in a battle. But aside from becoming a warning, the character of Brünhilde also reflects those people who suffer from the wrong decisions made by others. Brünhilde, first and foremost, has lost her immortality and her chance for happiness because of the effect of Wotan’s decisions while trying to obtain the ring.
Another character who suffered because of Wotan’s unreasonable desire is another of his son, Siegmund. Siegmund has died because of a plot that is made by his own father. In relation to the real life, the story implies that there are people who are highly affected by the decisions that we make while trying to get our desires. Those persons, most often than not, are the persons dearly close to us. It only shows that an unreasonable desire, when pursued too much, will not only harm the person who wants but also the people around him/her.
Another lesson that can be obtained from Wotan’s character is the lesson of selfishness and contentment. If only Wotan becomes contented of the things that he already has – the power of becoming the King and the great hall built as a testimony of his greatness – all of the mishaps could not have happened.
Instead of keeping the deal with the giants, he plans to keep the ring for himself. Instead of becoming a king and a god of treaties, he looses his own identity and his being as well. He does not keep the deal that he make, becomes an instrument to destroy the things that he already has, and becomes responsible for the downfall of the whole kingdom that he is ruling.
Personally, the character of Wotan explains and shows how a person may lead himself to success of may become an instrument of his own downfall. During the start, Wotan was able to earn the greatness and the power that he has. He was able to rule the deities by using the sword he got from the World Ash Tree. However, he also becomes an instrument of his own downfall because he does not become contented with the things that he already has – power, kingdom, and family.
It reminds me that I, too, can drive myself to greatness, but only to the extent that I deserve. If I desire of anything that is not for me anymore, I also trying to plot my own destruction. It teaches me the lesson of contentment and happiness.
Not only that, Wotan’s character in the story also teaches me to be responsible for my own actions and to listen to others. I should recognize that at times, my decisions are not as sound as they should be. Because I am too much blinded by my earthly desires, my sound judgment is impaired. However, other persons, such as family and friends, may remind me of the wrong actions that I already committing. I should accept their reminders.
As a conclusion, the story is a constant reminder for people to not to desire too much and to remain contented with what they have.