Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was a famous German writer and philosopher, most well known for his contribution to the ‘Enlightenment’ era. He became probably the first dramaturge, and this research and development position within the theatre uses his methods still.

Lessing’s Life and Work

Lessing studied theology and medicine at the University of Leipzig and gained his masters degree at Wittenburg in 1752. He wrote and was a reviewer for several publications before taking up the position of dramturge at the Hamburg National Theatre where he was to meet his wife Eva Konig. She was to die giving birth to their son, who only lived a short time, in 1778. Lessing became friendly with the German-Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and their views on reformation in religion and society were among the most notable during the era of Enlightenment. He defended freedom of thought and tolerance of religion through his works, although he posed many questions about proof when it came to belief. How can miracles be held up as proof of the existence of God when we have no proof? This conundrum became known as ‘Lessing’s Ditch’ and he said that no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t make that leap across the ditch to unquestioning belief when he had no real historical proof.

Lessing’s Later Life

Lessing was a real believer in acceptance and tolerance. He was to bring this belief to the theatre and he advocated freedom from the role model of French theatre which was still predominant at that time. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was an inspired thinker. Enlightened and liberal, he became the role model for the post of dramaturge and his enduring work ‘Hamburg Dramaturgy’ is still valid now. His many theories and critical works are still debated today, particularly on the subjects of proof and reason, with ‘Lessing’s Ditch’ a still important academic and theological concept. His well known work ‘The Education of Humankind’ bridges his philosophical beliefs with his theatrical work. Lessing died during a visit to Brunswick to see his wine dealer on 15 February 1781.

© Image via Wikimedia Commons – „Gotthold Ephraim Lessing“ by Anton Graff
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