Gotthold Ephraim Lessing



  • (1729 - 81) Germany's first great dramatist and drama critic,who greatly influenced the development of his country's theatricaltradition. Lessing studied with Carolina Neuber's company and sheproduced his early works, light comedies in the French tradition.However, as a critic he came to oppose the classical style adoptedby Neuber and Johann Gottsched (see Leipzig style)and in a series of critical essays, published as the HamburgischeDramaturgie (1767 - 68), argued for a freer approach to bothacting and writing, citing Shakespeare as an example.

    His own plays included the realistic Miss Sara Simpson(1755), about a girl betrayed by her lover and poisoned by his mistress,which introduced Germans to domestic tragedy in prose. This was followedin 1767 by an important prose comedy, Minna von Barnhelm.

    Lessing became Germany's first dramaturge, or dramatist associatedwith a particular company, when he took such a position with the HamburgNational Theatre in 1767. He was the first writer to make set changesonly between acts rather than force delays between scenes. Lessing'sfinal offering was the blank-verse drama Nathan the Wise,a plea for religious tolerance. Given its premiere two years afterhis death, it emerged as an important work when Goethe revivedit in 1801.