Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (gôt´hôlt ā´fräĬm), 1729–81, German philosopher, dramatist, and critic, one of the most influential figures of the Enlightenment. He was connected with the theater in Berlin, where he produced some of his most famous works, and with the national theater in Hamburg. His series of critical essays, Hamburgische Dramaturgie (1767–69), attacked the French classical theater and claimed that it had failed to capture the true spirit of Aristotelian dramatic unities. From 1770 he was librarian at Wolfenbüttel, writing there Zur Geschichte und Literatur [on history and literature] (1773–77). Other significant critical works are Literaturbriefe [literary letters] (1759–65) and Laokoon (1766). Lessing differentiated between the poet as interpreter of time and the artist as interpreter of space; he found different aesthetic criteria applicable to each. His plays include Miss Sara Sampson (1755), Minna von Barnhelm (1763, tr. 1799), Emilia Galotti (1772, tr. 1909), and Nathan the Wise (1779, tr. 1781), which was partly the result of the numerous theological controversies into which he was drawn by his insistence on freedom of thought. A deist, Lessing took theology seriously. His Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts [education of the human race] (1780) applied Enlightenment ideas of progress and evolution to religion. Lessing's introduction in Germany of English literature, especially of Shakespeare, was an important contribution.

See studies by H. E. Allison (1966), A. F. Brown (1971), and H. B. Garland (1949, repr. 1973).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing: Selected full-text books and articles

Lessing and the Enlightenment By Alexej Ugrinsky Greenwood Press, 1986
Lessing, the Founder of Modern German Literature By H. B. Garland MacMillan, 1962 (2nd edition)
Beyond Theory: Eighteenth-Century German Literature and the Poetics of Irony By Benjamin Bennett Cornell University Press, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Three "Lessing's Laokoon: The Poetics of Experience"
Order and Freedom: Literature and Society in Germany from 1720-1805 By Alan Menhennet Basic Books, 1973
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Rationalism: G. E. Lessing"
Translating the Enlightenment: Scottish Civic Discourse in Eighteenth-Century Germany By Fania Oz-Salzberger Clarendon Press, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Gotthold Ephraim Lessing: God in History"
The Servant in German Enlightenment Comedy By Alison Scott-Prelorentzos University of Alberta Press, 1982
Librarian’s tip: Chap. IV "Lessing's Early Comedies"
The 'Jewish Question' in German Literature, 1749-1939: Emancipation and Its Discontents By Ritchie Robertson Oxford University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "Lessing and Toleration" begins on p. 32
Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript By Soren Kierkegaard; David F. Swenson Princeton University Press for American Scandinavian Foundation, 1941
Librarian’s tip: Part One "Something about Lessing"
Current Problems in Religion By Hermon F. Bell Philosophical Library, 1956
Librarian’s tip: Chap. IV "Lessing"
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