Wagner’s Shakespearian Birth: Dave Paxton

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday, 19 January 2013 | 4:06:00 pm

"...Cosima in 1874, who wrote...in her diary, along with the further details that her husband, as a young teenager, had interpreted Shakespeare’s canon ‘as something daemonic and fantastic and had even sought a mystical meaning in Falstaff.’" Dave Paxton

While Shakespeare's influence on Wagner is undeniably, it is still one that remains, relativity unexamined in any detail. It is thus with some pleasure that we can recommend the writings of Shakespeare/Wagner scholar, Dave Paxton who is a doctoral researcher at the Stratford Shakespeare Institute, writing on Shakespeare and Richard Wagner.

While not working feverishly on his Doctoral thesis, Dave occasionally produces items for the highly recommended "Blogging Shakespeare". Although, alas never enough for our tastes. However he has just added a new item: "Wagner’s Shakespearian Birth"  which traces Shakespeare's influence on Wagner's early work - including  Leubald. An excellent overview and highly recommended; you can read in detail by following the link below. While you are there we highly recommended his other essays also, including: Shakespeare and Revolutionary Sex.

Wagner’s Shakespearian Birth
Dave Paxton

Richard Wagner’s engagement with his creative predecessor William Shakespeare began around age 13. At this time, Wagner pronounced Shakespeare’s name “Shicksper,” which triggered for him associations of fate (Shicksal = fate/destiny) and battle (Speer = spear). Wagner related this detail from the distant past to his second wife Cosima in 1874, who wrote it in her diary, along with the further details that her husband, as a young teenager, had interpreted Shakespeare’s canon ‘as something daemonic and fantastic and had even sought a mystical meaning in Falstaff.’

Wagner, like many other intelligent people, found in formal education only a series of obstacles and stimuli to unhappiness; he was exceptionally lucky that, as an alienated 14-year-old, he developed a friendship with his uncle Adolf, who was living near him in Leipzig. Adolf provided his nephew with an informal education in literature and philosophy, as well as spiritual solace and a shared ‘contempt for the pedantry of the schools,’ as Wagner put it in his autobiography. The man and the boy took a daily walk together ‘beyond the city gates,’ no doubt – Wagner mused later in life – provoking the smiles of passers-by who heard their ‘earnest discussions.’

Wagner had enrolled in the Nicolaischule in Leipzig on 21 January 1828, but he soon stopped attending classes there entirely. He stayed at home instead, and devoted himself to completing his first artwork, which he later referred to – only half mockingly – as a ‘great tragedy’ and a ‘great poetic enterprise.’ He named the work Leubald, which no doubt is supposed to evoke the name of the pub in which he had been born in 1813: the Red and White Lion.