Gotthold Ephraim Lessing Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

ph_0111206596-Lessing_G.jpg Gotthold Ephraim Lessing Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Anyone who peruses the standard twenty-three volume set of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s writings, Sämtliche Schriften (1886-1924), edited by Karl Lachmann and Franz Muncker, will readily see that plays are a very small part of Lessing’s total literary output. Although Lessing worked in such diverse genres as the epigram, fable, and anacreontic verse, his most important nondramatic writings are to be found in the areas of art criticism, literary criticism, and theological studies. Most notable of his contributions to art criticism are Briefe antiquarischen Inhalts (1768; antiquarian letters) and Wie die Alten den Tod gebildet (1769; How the Ancients Represented Death, 1879). His treatise Laokoon: Oder, Über die Grenzen der Malerei und Poesie (1766; Laocoön: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry, 1836) deals with both art and literature. Other highpoints in literary criticism are the periodical Briefe, die neueste Literatur betreffend (1759-1760; letters on current literature) and Hamburgische Dramaturgie (1767-1769; Hamburg Dramaturgy, 1889). His publication of fragments from the writings of a recently deceased German Deist, Hermann Samuel Reimarus, during the years 1774-1778, triggered an acrimonious dispute with Pastor Johann Melchior Goeze. In 1778, in response to his adversary’s attacks, Lessing produced a series of remarkable theological tracts, among which are...

(The entire section is 540 words.)


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

At the time that Gotthold Ephraim Lessing began his literary activity, Germany lacked a fully developed native theatrical tradition. The Thirty Years’ War, which had ravaged the country during the first half of the seventeenth century, had retarded Germany’s literary development to the extent that it had to rely on foreign models to an unhealthy degree. With respect to the theater, the most important playwright and dramatic critic during this period was Johann Christoph Gottsched, a Leipzig professor who championed the type of neoclassicism that flourished in neighboring France. As a youth, Lessing dutifully allowed himself to be indoctrinated with neoclassical theory, but he gradually grew dissatisfied with its conventions as he matured. Therefore, when the editor of a prominent literary journal wrote that nobody would deny that the German stage owed a great measure of its recent improvement to the efforts of Gottsched, Lessing responded by launching a vitriolic attack against the Leipzig professor in the periodical Briefe die neueste Literatur betreffend, which he, along with his friends Nicolai and Mendelssohn, had founded in January, 1759. Here, in the seventeenth letter, Lessing boldly announces: “I am that nobody; I deny it forthwith. It would have been better if Mr. Gottsched had never meddled with the theater.”

He continues his assault by maintaining that the Germans have a greater spiritual affinity with the English than they...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Allison, Henry E. Lessing and the Enlightenment: His Philosophy of Religion and Its Relation to Eighteenth-Century Thought. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1966. A comprehensive study; includes a bibliography and notes.

Batley, Edward Malcolm. Catalyst of Enlightenment, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing: Productive Criticism of Eighteenth-Century Germany. New York: P. Lang, 1990. Places Lessing in eighteenth century German intellectual life. Includes bibliography and index.

Brown, F. Andrew. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. New York: Twayne, 1971. A thorough introduction to Lessing’s life and works.

Eckhardt, Jo-Jacqueline. Lessing’s “Nathan the Wise” and the Critics, 1779-1991. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1993. A long-term perspective of the literary criticism produced in response to Lessing’s Nathan the Wise. Bibliography and index.

Garland, Henry B. Lessing: The Founder of Modern German Literature. 2d ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1962. An important study. Includes a bibliography.

Gustafson, Susan E. Absent Mothers and Orphaned Fathers: Narcissism and Abjection in Lessing’s Aesthetic and Dramatic Production. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995. A psychoanalytic study of the works of Lessing, with emphasis...

(The entire section is 410 words.)