"It was Lessing, the most eminent of dramatic critics (so I am told by persons who have read him), who was reproached by Heine for not only cutting off his victims' heads but holding them up afterwards to show that there were no brains in them. The critical profession, in fact, is cruel in its nature, and demands for its efficient discharge an inhuman person like myself."
-- George Bernard Shaw
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was so financially impoverished by January, 1767, that he agreed to serve as a resident critic at the Hamburg National Theatre. He would have preferred to be a librarian at the Royal Library in Berlin, but Frederick the Great denied him that opportunity in 1766. King Frederick hired a Frenchman instead of a German. Lessing had to settle for a position in Hamburg. In this casual, almost accidental manner, the dramaturgical profession began.
While at the Hamburg National Theatre, Lessing wrote Hamburg Dramaturgy, a collection of essays on theatre which popularized dramaturgy as both a word and a practice. Today Lessing's successors--resident theatre critics throughout Germany and Austria--are called Dramaturgs. Lessing, like many modern Dramaturgs, was a playwright who advised his theatre's management on play selection, and offered his theatre continuous, sometimes adverse, criticism of its productions. Since Lessing's day Dramaturgs have also been known to direct plays, translate foreign drama, commission works, prepare essays for inclusion in theatre programs, and usher. Nearly all Dramaturgs read plays, though one notable exception is the Dramaturg in Brecht Messingkauf Dialogues; he stays out of his office because "it would mean sitting under the reproachful eyes of all those scripts I ought to have read."
While the dramaturgical profession is largely an Austrian and German phenomenon, comparable positions exist for a