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Paul, R.A. (2014). The Knight in Shining Armor and the Pure Fool: The Construction of “Innocence” in Two Wagner Operas. Am. Imago, 71(3):289-313.

(2014). American Imago, 71(3):289-313

The Knight in Shining Armor and the Pure Fool: The Construction of “Innocence” in Two Wagner Operas

Robert A. Paul


In previous publications, I have presented a generative formula underlying a great many important narrative works in the Western tradition, from the Bible and Greek drama to present-day cinema.1 This formula is concerned with resolving the inevitable dilemma that arises in the succession of one generation by another, and more specifically the passage of a junior man to full senior status. This transition is fraught with ambivalence in both directions, so that the junior man must accomplish his ascendency without becoming guilty of the crime of displacing—usually represented in the narrative as killing—a man who already occupies the senior position. I have called this formula the succession scenario, for obvious reasons, and I will give a more detailed account of it in the course of this paper. As should be evident even from my brief description of it here, however, one of the outcomes of the succession scenario is that the succeeding junior male must be represented as an “innocent heir,” that is, he must remain untainted by the violence inherent in succession while nonetheless replacing the previous occupant of senior status. Because this required result is impossible to accomplish in reality, symbolic means must be found to allow it to occur at least in fiction.

In this essay, I will analyze how the succession scenario manages to achieve its symbolic work in two operas of Richard Wagner—Lohengrin and Parsifal—each of which represents two possible solutions for the same dilemma of succession.

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