Nathan the Wise

by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

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Analysis

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Nathan the Wise is an appeal to religious tolerance in the form of a play. It’s relatively heavy-handed in its approach regarding this theme. The three main characters in the play represent the three major religions relevant to the place and time, including Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Nathan himself is a merchant Jew, and the play brings in a famous character from history, Sultan Saladin, to represent Islam.

It’s likely that Saladin was chosen because of the stories about how he allowed Christians to exit the city of Jerusalem without killing them during the battle where Muslims took control. Essentially, he’s considered “safe” as far as that goes, from the perspective of Christians. The third character is a German Templar who fought in the Third Crusade. The play implies that he is a prisoner of the Saracens who control the city.

Since the story is set in Jerusalem, it’s hard to imagine an area more full of religious strife; this is likely why the playwright chose it.

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