Lessing: The Founder of Modern German Literature

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Available Indexes Full-text Catalog Full view only. Advanced full-text search Advanced catalog search Search tips. Search HathiTrust. Tools Cite this Export citation file. Similar Items A survey of German literature, in English translation, from Lessing to the end of the 19th century Author Schneider, Franz, Published Author Garland, Henry B.

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Henry Burnand Published Author Schreiber, Sara Etta Published A treatise on German literature, Author Tolhausen, Alexandre. Author Becker, Carolyn Oglesby, Published Fitzell, John. The German philosopher, dramatist, and critic Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was one of the most brilliant representatives of the German Enlightenment and stood on the threshold of the Sturm und Drang , or Storm and Stress, movement.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, the son of a parson, was born on Jan.

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Afra in Meissen, he attended the University of Leipzig from to In Frau Caroline Neuber's company performed Lessing's Der junge Gelehrte, a comedy about a haughty, pedantic young scholar, composed in the French manner and, to a degree, autobiographical, as Lessing himself was in danger of becoming a bookworm. From he was a feuilletonist and critic in Berlin; his friends and acquaintances included Karl Wilhelm Ramler, Christoph Nicolai, and Moses Mendelssohn , on whom Lessing modeled the noble Jew in his Lustspiel comedy entitled Die Juden The play is based on the Medea theme but in an English setting.

Kleist, mortally wounded at the battle of Kunersdorf in , was Lessing's model for Tellheim in Minna von Barnhelm. In Berlin from Lessing, with Mendelssohn and Nicolai, published the Briefe, die neueste Literatur betreffend referred to as Literaturbriefe. These letters, concerning the most recent literature, attacked literary facades, mediocrities, and inflated celebrities, above all Gottsched.

Nobody was supposed to deny that German theater owed many improvements to Gottsched, but Lessing, in the seventeenth Literaturbrief, claimed to be that "Nobody" and repudiated indebtedness to Gottsched, who, instead of pointing to Shakespeare as Lessing did, saw in the French theater the model for Germany. At the end of the letters Lessing published his Doktor Faust fragment , a brilliantly conceived work, unfortunately never completed.

In Act II, scene 3, seven spirits of hell offer their services. Faust needs the swiftest: neither the finger through the flames, nor the arrows of the plague, nor the wings of winds, nor the rays of the sun, nor the thoughts of men, nor the revenge of the revenger can be as quick as the transition from good to evil, which he chooses as his quickest servant.

Abhandlungen contains five "Essays on Fable": on the essence of fable; on the use of animals, for example, the wolf and lamb, to illustrate a moral truth; on the division of the stories; on their artistic presentation; and on their use in education. Lessing lets the readers discover the moral for themselves. According to Lessing the Sinngedicht epigram is a kind of headline or inscription as on monuments to arouse curiosity and attention. The Laokoon , first part is, next to Hamburgische Dramaturgie, Lessing's most important literary and esthetic criticism.

Poetry and paintings are interpreted as essentially different expressions: actions, or things which succeed one another, are the true subjects of poetry; bodies are the true subjects of painting and sculpture. Beauty, not Johann Joachim Winckelmann 's "noble simplicity and serene greatness," is the highest principle of artistic presentation. Laokoon's death agony would distort his features to an unbearable degree.

The sculptor is subject to artistic laws different from those of poetry. Bildende Kunst pictorial art depicts bodies adjacent to one another and presented in the most pregnant moment of time, whereas literature presents actions in succession. In Minna von Barnhelm, set in the Seven Years War , appeared, a landmark in 18th-century German drama—its first successful comedy, first truly national drama, and still a popular play.

Doubtless the national elements are unmistakable, but they are not decisive in this comedy of situation the deception with the ring, the apparent poverty, and so on and of character the teasing Minna and the chivalrous but rigid Tellheim.

What does lessing, gotthold ephraim mean?

The vividly funny, mirth-provoking effects are mainly delegated to subaltern figures Just, Franziska, and the retired sergeant major Werner , whose deeds are set against the serious, touching conflict between Tellheim and Minna, at times verging on tragedy. But their essentially generous characters assure an ultimately happy outcome. From to Lessing was dramaturge of the national theater in Hamburg. His periodical, Hamburgische Dramaturgie, appeared on April 22, , the day a national theater first opened in Germany.

Lessing revealed himself as a champion of Shakespeare and a relentless critic of the slavishly observed French "three unities" of time, place, and action. For Lessing, Shakespeare was nearest to the Greek tragedians-thus in a sense a "classic" author. It was not until the early German romantics that Shakespeare was fully understood as essentially akin to the German genius. But in a Literaturbrief Lessing maintained that, after Sophocles's Oedipus, no plays have more power over passions than Othello, King Lear , or Hamlet.

Lessing translated Aristotle's fobos kai eleos as Furcht fear; not Schrecken, or terror and Mitleid pity.

The two terms are pivotal in the main discussions of the Hamburgische Dramaturgie: we are prompted by the fear that a similar fate may befall us; thus fear is pity transferred to ourselves. Lessing's Letters of Antiquarian Content Briefe anti-quarischen Inhalts, arose from a bitter dispute in Halle with the antiquarian Christian Adolf Klotz, who attacked Laokoon. Another polemic against Klotz, who misunderstood a remark in Laokoon, is the inquiry into the theory about death and youth, Wie die Alten den Tod gebildet , in which Lessing rightly maintains that skeletons portrayed by the ancient Greeks never were meant to symbolize death.

According to Lessing, the skeletons on sarcophagi, sepulchers, monuments, and the like portrayed lemures, or spirits of the dead. The Greeks showed death as the twin brother of sleep, as in Homer, namely as a youth.

Klotz misread and deliberately obscured Lessing's statement about death in chapter 11 of Laokoon. There is no question of mawkishly glossing over the terrors of death. As a rationalist, Lessing faced the issue with unshrinking sentiment: death meant the end of suffering; Lessing, therefore, aptly concludes his erudite Untersuchung with a reference to Scripture in which an angel is the image of death. Emilia Galotti, a domestic tragedy based on the Virginia theme, appeared in Lessing's intention was to modernize the Roman story; rather than fall into the prince's seductive power, Emilia chooses to die at the hands of her father, Odoardo.

The ultimate solution remains a rather unconvincing, highly intellectual exercise: Friedrich von Schlegel called it "a great example of dramatic algebra;" Johann Wolfgang von Goethe spoke of a nur gedacht thought-out play. Lessing's introduction of the theme of political power and arbitrary authority, however, must have found a ready response among the angry young men of his time, although the play does not advocate a violent break with traditional powers.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Galotti sacrifices his daughter—he does not kill the prince. The real flaw is that Emilia Galotti has no hero. Emilia is clearly not the hero, nor is her father. Marinelli is too contemptible a villain, and the prince lacks personal stature as a ruler. Although he masters brilliant repartee, for example, in the conversation with the painter Conti, he reveals himself as a moody, irresponsible lover and ruler who is quickly ready to sign a death sentence. From Lessing engaged in a vehement theological conflict with orthodox Protestants when he published fragments from the Apologia for the Reasonable Worship of God by the Hamburg professor Hermann Samuel Reimarus.

Lessing's fearless attack on the Hamburg pastor Johann Melchior Goeze in Anti-Goeze and his noble defense of tolerance were, however, frustrated when the Protestants persuaded Karl I, Duke of Brunswick, to silence him. Lessing had married her in the autumn of In Anti-Goeze Lessing uttered the proud statement: "If God in His right hand held all truth and in His left hand the ever-active quest for truth, although with the reminder that I shall for ever and ever err, and said to me: 'Choose,' I would in humility choose His left hand and say: 'Father, give.

Pure truth is for You alone. Both believed that ultimate truth lay beneath all church dogmas. Nathan der Weise: Ein dramatisches Gedicht ; Nathan the Wise , written in blank verse, demonstrates that idea. It is less a drama than a manifestation of Lessing's progressive thinking, religious tolerance, and enlightened humanitarianism.

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There is no doubt that Mendelssohn and Lessing himself were the models of Nathan's character. It turns on the meaningful ring fable from Boccaccio's first day in The Decameron: the rings symbolize the three religions—Christian, Jewish, Mohammedan. This ring parable appears also in the Gesta Romanorum, an earlyth-century Latin collection of stories. Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts reaffirms Lessing's profound belief in the enlightenment and progress of the human race. Various forms of religion are merely stages in the striving toward perfection and truth.

Lessing pretended to be merely the editor of the hundred paragraphs of "The Education of the Human Race. Does he uphold the dogma of immortality? He clearly believes in metempsychosis, that is, the transmigration of the soul of a human being or animal at death into a new body; and he strongly reasserts his trust in human progress and its highest stages: enlightenment and the purity of the heart. Education is the key to Lessing's faith. There is a very personal note in the statements of religious conviction as regards the foundation of all certainty in knowledge and of faith in an eternal Providence that can never be rationally perceived.

Lessing realizes that "the shortest line is not always the straight one. Whether Lessing was the first critic in Europe, as Thomas Babington Macaulay claimed, is arguable, but he was certainly, with Goethe and Schiller, a most brilliant and fearless judge of artistic form and a great modern literary critic. Robertson, Lessing's Dramatic Theory Interesting recent studies are Henry E.

Stahl and W. Wuill, German Literature of the 18th and 19th Centuries, edited by A. Closs Kamenz, in Oberlausitz Saxony , Jan. Braunschweig, Feb. He was the son of a Lutheran pastor and attended the celebrated school of St. Afra in Meissen — He then entered the University of Leipzig, where, at the wish of his father, he studied first theology, then medicine.

But his main interest was in philosophy and literature. His early play, Der junge Gelehrte, was produced at Leipzig in by the company of actors under the direction of Caroline Neuber — When this company failed in the same year, Lessing, who had become surety for its debts, fled to Berlin to escape his creditors. There he again wrote plays: Der Freigeist , under the influence of the French comedy, and Die Juden , which foreshadowed the themes of his later play Nathan der Weise.

In — 52, after having studied for his master's degree in Wittenberg, Lessing was again in Berlin, where he published the first volumes of his collected works Schriften, 6 v. Lessing's second review of drama, Die theatralische Bibliothek, was published from to In collaboration with Moses Mendelssohn — 86 he published Pope, ein Metaphysiker! He frequently changed his residence in the following years: he was at Leipzig — 58 , where he formed a close friendship with the poet Ewald Christian von Kleist — 59 ; at Berlin — 60 ; Breslau — 64 , as secretary to the governor, General Tauentzien; Berlin — 67 ; Hamburg — 68 ; and in Italy — Influence as Critic.

Lessing, in whom the German enlightenment found its culmination and German classicism its most eminent precursor and teacher, has been called the foremost critic of his time. His essay on the nature of the fable, prefixed to the collected edition of his Fabeln , distinguishes the kinds of action proper to fable, drama, and epic. Perceptive criticisms of contemporary authors, among them Klopstock and Wieland, are to be found in the 54 letters he contributed to the journal Briefe, die neueste Literatur betreffend, published in Berlin — 65 , with Moses Mendelssohn and Friedrich Nicolai — , the latter a bookseller and writer of rationalistic literature.

Especially noteworthy is the seventeenth letter, in which Lessing strove to free German literature from its subjection to the artificial rules of French pseudoclassicism by reinterpreting the classical tradition of the ancients and pointing the way to a proper appreciation of Shakespeare. As dramatic critic of the newly established National Theater in Hamburg, Lessing published the Hamburgische Dramaturgie — Intended originally as a series of reviews of plays performed at the National Theater, these essays became in point of fact vehicles for the expression of Lessing's own dramatic theory, which, though largely derivative, exerted a major influence on 18th-century drama in Germany and in Europe generally.

In them he again strove to break the tyranny of French pseudoclassicism in Germany and to create a German national drama based on a correct interpretation of Aristotle's dramatic theory of the unities. Out of Lessing's feud with the antiquarian Christian Adolf Klotz — 71 , professor at the University of Halle, arose the Briefe antiquarischen Inhalts — 69 and the admirable essay Wie die Alten den Tod gebildet Dramatic Work.

Lessing's interest in the theater was not confined to criticism. Based on English models especially George Lillo's Merchant of London, , this play gave practical expression to Lessing's revolt against Johann Christoph Gottsched — 66 , the chief patron of French pseudoclassicism in Germany. In Minna von Barnhelm , a play whose setting was the Seven Years' War, Lessing wrote the first German national drama of modern times, the first play in which a soldier the hero, Major von Tellheim has an honorable role.

Lessing the Founder of Modern German Literature

It is also the first masterpiece of German comedy, in which the comedy has its logical source in the events themselves, and the events in the characters who portray them; it is still popular in Germany. Lessing likewise gave Germany its first political tragedy, Emilia Galotti , an indictment of corruption and immorality among the petty princes of absolutism. To the ensuing controversy between orthodoxy and rationalism belong Lessing's Anti-Goeze , a rebuttal of his most vehement opponent, the Hamburg pastor Johann Melchior Goeze — 86 , and Nathan der Weise, in which.

Lessing, forbidden by the Braunschweig government to continue his strife with orthodoxy, returned to his "old pulpit," the stage, and pleaded for religious tolerance; the play's parable of the three rings reflects his rejection of the concept of one true religion. Die Erziehung des Menschengeschlechts is an essay that contains his doctrine of an organic religious evolution away from revealed religion and toward a future rational religion to succeed Judaism and Christianity.

Bibliography: Works. First ed. Berlin — ; ed.