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The Ring Cycle's characters

Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle: The Humans

Discover the characters

By Coline Delreux 17 November 2020


© Pablo Grand Mourcel

Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle: The Humans

The characters in the Ring Cycle are primarily inspired from Medieval transcriptions of Norse and Germanic mythology, and more particularly from the 13th century German saga The Nibelungenlied (The Song of the Nibelungs). As he developed the librettos of the four operas which make up The Ring of the Nibelung, Richard Wagner brought those legends and their variations closer to his other sources of inspiration—namely Greek tragedy and Shakespearian drama—and added his own interpretations.

The Humans

© Pablo Grand Mourcel

The Gibichungen are a family of humans who reign over the Rhine under a monarchic system.


Gunther, the half-brother of Hagen, reigns over his people, the Gibichungen. However, all the major decisions are really determined by his half-brother. A man of weak character, he is depicted as a puppet manipulated by Hagen. Blinded by his faith in the latter, he has no qualms about following his advice. As such, he allows his wife Brünnhilde to be seduced by Siegfried and then takes credit for the exploit. Gunther is often regarded as one of Wagner’s weakest characters.


Gutrune is the victim of a deal struck between Hagen, Gunther and Siegfried. Offered to Siegfried by Hagen in Götterdämmerung in exchange for Gunther’s conquest of Brünnhilde, Gutrune falls in love with the hero. However, she will never be able to experience the joys of a genuine loving relationship. Manipulated by Hagen, she gives Siegfried the potion of forgetfulness and, distraught by her act, she flees. Like the other female characters in the Ring, she is intuitive and, in Act III of Götterdämmerung she senses that a dire event has come to pass.


Hunding is the only human in the Ring cycle who does not belong to the Gibichungen family. A brutal hunter, he is a symbol of machismo. Hunding is Sieglinde’s husband but Sieglinde hates him, so he repays her by enslaving her and abusing her. He looks on power in a boorish way: his land, his spoils and his wife. He is dependent on his clan and its customs and has no true personal values or sentiments. In Die Walküre, by receiving Siegmund into his home, he is merely conforming to the laws of hospitality and the code of honour.

5 questions about: Siegfried by Wagner

2 min


5 questions about: Siegfried by Wagner

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