Der König in Thule

Der König in Thule; The King in Thule (written 1774, published 1800)

[Later Version]

Gretchen sings this sensual, melancholy ballad in Faust I (lines 2759-82). It was partially inspired by the ‘willow song’ which Desdemona sings in Othello, Act IV, Scene 3, in which spring water and tears are linked with the theme of infidelity. This theme also exists in ‘Der König in Thule’, since the king is given a cup by his mistress (Buhle), and there is no mention of a wife. The ballad links drinking and drowning, celebration and grieving, love and pain. The king drains the cup of life to its dregs and then extinguishes it by throwing it into the sea. As the sea engulfs the beaker, so too the king is overwhelmed. In German the final rhyme of the poem ‘Meer’ (sea) and ’mehr’ (more) implies the immensity of the sea, giving a sense of cosmic scale.