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In creative arts, plays and operas, it is always necessary create a shadow. This means that something or somebody is represented by another thing. This representation serves several ends. For example, it is usually a symbolic way or presenting a particular lesson to the audience. In addition, it could be a way of conceptualizing otherwise a difficult concept to grasp. In the effort to understand their world and that transcends their reasoning, human beings have a natural tendency to simulate or enact what they think may have been the outcome. In the same way, it is a technical way of representing themes. However, for this to happen, the shadows recur many times as motifs in the piece. Through repetition, the audience is able to understand the message that the writer intended to pass. In this case, the opera “Rhinegold” adequately develops various themes through the concept of a shadow. In the opera, Alberich acts as the shadow of Wotan, the God of gods. In the beginning, Alberich uses the ring of power for negative competition and manifestation of ego but towards the end, the ring of power is used positively for the betterment of others.

It is important to have a brief glimpse of the characters in the opera. The characters are divided into at least four categories. These are gods, the nibelungs, the rhinemaidens and the giants. The gods are Erda, Freia, Froh, Donah, Fricka, Logoe and Wotan. The last one is the leader or head of the Gods. The rhinemaidens are Woglinde, Wellgunde and Flosshilde, the daughters of Rhine. Alberich and Mime are the nibelungs while Fafner and Fasolt are the giants.

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This analysis seeks to discuss various aspects of the theme of shadow in the opera. It begins by expounding on what the shadow is. Thereafter, it gives a brief description what happens in the opera; as a way of expounding the explanation of what the shadow is. As a result, the plot of the opera will be reviewed and the relevant characters presented. This will be followed by a demonstration of the changes that occur with the shadow or in other words, the transformation in the character of the actors, especially the antagonists. It will be demonstrated that through a series of life or practical experiences, the protagonist was able to change from negative to positive character.

“Rheingold” is an opera that presents themes of ego, self interest, competition and power among other related themes. These themes are built in the fragments through motifs of the shadow, which are the main source of power. It centers on the powers possessed by Wotan’s shadow, Alberich. The opera begins in a rather dramatic episode in which the powerful Alberich steals the tongue from rheinmaiden. The maidens are also seen mocking the Alberich for having made advances to them. After becoming angry about it, he steals the Rheingold and is now able to manipulate it for powerful gestures. A closer scrutiny reveals that the anger itself was a symbol of competition or self assertion. Anger becomes the origin of bad deeds and individuals seek to outdo each other.

The book “The Interpretation of Fairy Tales”by Von Franz critically analyzes the concept of the shadow. According to Von Franz (114), the “…figure appears as a shadow-hero but not necessarily morally inferior”. However, the author notes that in tales where the there is no shadow-character, the protagonist bears both positive and negative traits. Moreover, the problem in the opera under analysis is the issue of abstraction. In trying to understand it, the author writes that “becoming conscious of something presupposes a choice on the part of the ego”. Therefore, in trying to analyze the shadow in the opera, it is an obligation that the analysts should scrutinize the egos of the characters in question. By applying the author’s concepts in this case, it is apparent that the positive and negative elements are not possessed by the same character but by the hero and his shadow respectively. To help us understand what a shadow is, Von Franz uses the concept of a dream. By using this concept, he explicitly points out that shadowing belongs to the unconscious mind. Thus the opera in question was an attempt to entrench some of the abstract ideas about life. Moreover, he writes that “the figure of the shadow in itself belongs partly to the personal unconscious and partly to the collective unconsciouses”. Further application in the opera seems to indicate that an individual is partly subjective and objective.

After Alberich steals Woglinda’s voice box, it is evident that he becomes more confident. This is because the voice box had a lot of power in it. However, by doing so, Alberich gives up love. This is a symbol of what choices people make in life. The motif of a shadow is evident in that one cannot have everything in the society. In this case, the characters could not have the ring as well as the ability to love. In any case, it will be demonstrated that whoever got the ring become more selfish and egocentric. It also demonstrates the degree to which individuals can go to possess power. They do not care about their friends but only self interests and personal achievements. Viewed from another angle, it looks as if competition is a shadow of power. It is only those who had the ring that were in strive with each other.

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The concept of a shadow is also evident in the very design of the opera or the idea upon which the opera is built. Wotan comes up with an idea the he builds a house in the sky. This house seems too difficult to build. Moreover, the idea is explored further with the help of his sister in law, Freia. This could mean that to complete something, one needs other people to assist him or her. They thus become a shadow of his or her incapability. On the contrary, while the Wotan struggles with the concept of building a house in the sky, Alberich is wallowing in the underworld because of lack of love. It is as if Alberich is the shadow or image of Wotan who is up there while the former is down wallowing in lack of somebody’s love. It is as if in the life, things and people are created or exist to complement each other. The shadow is therefore a direct reflection of the main object. Since Wotan did not have enough to pay the builders of his magnificent house, he had to seek the assistance of Alberich who, although did not have a lover, had the power to do most of the things with what he stole from the rhinemadien’s mouth.

Von Franz (114) goes ahead to explore further the concepts of self, ego, anima and shadow. As it has been indicated, the motif of self interest rapidly resounds across the entire opera. It is actually because of the individual or personal self-interest that the opera’s action raises. For instance, while Wotan’s interest is to build a good house, he does not have what it takes to pay for it. As a result of his self interest, he reaches out to Alberich who has the necessary power. The concept of ego may be approached from two perspectives. The first one is the literal aspect of personal pride. In the opera, it is seen in the character of Alberich who cannot stand or face the reality that his advances were turned down simply because he was a dwarf. As a result, he opts to remain isolated from the rest of the people and goes into the underworld. The second perspective in the analysis of ego is the fact that it happens in the subconscious mind. It leads to the differential making of personal choices on the basis of what the person identifies with or on the basis of motivations.

The archetype of the self is not only expressed in terms of shadow but also in terms of anima-animus distinctions of the unconscious mind. There is a part of a domain of the unconscious part of humanity that goes beyond the psyche. There are complementary inner ‘personalities’ that define men and women. The whole idea of anima-animus is to explain how males and females get along with each other. This concept is mildly evident in the opera. Moreover, where it is expressed, it has a significant influence on the course of the play. Perhaps the best example is the turning down of Alberich’s advances by the maidens who even laughed at him. It appears that their animus was not complementary with his anima. As a result, he was turned down. However, the concept of a shadow is more pronounced in the opera. As it has already been seen, it is not only a technical aspect for the art analysis but also a symbol of representations.

There is a dramatic shift in the events, perspectives and attitudes towards to the end. In effect, the characters are transformed. As a result, they begin to do positive things, especially those who were initially prejudiced. Alberich made a ring which can cause harm to the world. Wotan had a contract to give his wife’s sister to the Giants if they build gods’ new castle. Wotan looked for something that can be given to Giants that they would agree to accept. Wotan found that Alberich, who claimed that he would not have love for the entire life, has gold and made a ring and tarn helm out of it. To further demonstrate this, Von Franz writes “But this evil minister has an essential function, for he creates the tasks whereby Ring is able to distinguish himself; he incites the prince to heroic action, and in this way the evil shadow has a positive value and a ‘luciferian’ light-bringing quality”.

Wotan went to him and tricked him so that he could seize everything that Alberich had before. At the moment Alberich possessed the ring he was not able to find himself but at the moment his ego defended his self being crushed by the shadow and the ring. In this scene the shadow of Wotan leads his ego to endure. The reason is that shadow is not only causing problems but also helps the ego. Wotan knew that the ring would destroy him because he saw Alberich’s curse and the power of the ring.


The opera “Rheingold” in one or other way depicts Alberich as a symbolic shadow of Wotan. Although it is an abstract concept, in real life, it may represent how people complement each other by being directly opposite of each other. The concept of a shadow is thus explored as a way of showing the relationship between the ideal and the real. However, the shadow would not have complemented the hero if at all there was no change of attitude on the part of Alberich. Therefore, the ring only became useful or constructive when it was used for the common good but not self assertion and protection of the ego.

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