Courtly Rivalry, Loyalty Conflict, and the Figure of Hagen in the Nibelungenlied

Katherine DeVane Brown


The variety of scholarly approaches to the Middle High German poem Das Nibelungenlied has generated an especially wide range of conflicting analyses of the complex figure of Hagen. This essay argues that Hagen’s relationship to Siegfried can be treated as an example of the courtly rivalry motif, a medieval narrative structure whose main features are outlined through a comparison of the depictions of rivalry in three contemporary Middle High German works (Herzog Ernst B, Wolfdietrich A and Tristan). Through the use of this narrative device, the poet problematizes the form of loyalty (MHG triuwe) that leads Hagen to kill Siegfried while using Hagen’s later interactions with Rüdiger to present the audience with an alternative definition of loyalty. Viewing Hagen’s character in relation to the problem of loyalty conflict can thus help reconcile the positive and negative aspects of his character while simultaneously shedding new light on the thematic structure of the Nibelungenlied. (KDB)

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