Nathan the Wise

by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

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Summary

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Nathan the Wise is a German play from the eighteenth century. It’s written in blank verse, the same as many of Shakespeare’s plays. Nathan is a Jewish merchant who is returning to Jerusalem after being away on business. When he gets home, he realizes that his daughter, Recha, was rescued from a fire by a Templar from Germany. The Templar was a prisoner of the Saracens from the Third Crusade.

Nathan goes to thank the Templar, and a discussion of religion ensues. Initially, the Templar harbors some wariness of Nathan’s Judaism, but eventually, they come to be more accepting of each other’s religion. Then, Nathan is summoned by the Sultan Saladin on a business matter, and while there, Nathan tells a story about rings that allow the wearer to be loved by God and other people.

The moral of this story within a story ends up being that the rings themselves can’t be counted on to give this power, since you don’t know which rings are real and which are replicas. So, you just have to be a good person.

The overall play continues, and it turns out that Saladin is related to the Templar knight, cementing the idea that the religions are all connected and those within them can live together.

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