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Lessing, G. E. - Nathan the Wise

Nathan the wise

"Humanity (has) above all three traits (...) first, the detachment from its historical existence, second, the elevation to spiritual persons, third, the optimism of the world and life view." Benno von Weise analysis of the relationships between the main character and the other characters appearing in the drama.

At the time of the Enlightenment, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing wrote his "dramatic poem" "Nathan the Wise" (1778/79). It is about the conflict situation of the three world religions Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Lessing wants to show that none of the religions can claim to be the only true one. He also shows this through the ring parable, which finds its place in the drama as a separate story. In the final scene of the drama, the relationship between Saladin, Sittah, Recha, the adopted daughter of Nathan, and the Templar is revealed, and thus between Muslims, a Christian with a Jewish adoptive father, and a Christian.

Already in his Theatrical Library (1st piece, 1754) Lessing recognized that the strict separation of tragedy and comedy was neither essential to the dramatic genre nor appropriate to contemporary theater, so in "Nathan" he continued the mixture of serious and comic drama. “Anyone who understands Nathan correctly knows Lessing”, Friedrich Schlegel once said of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's “dramatic poem” “Nathan the Wise”. And in fact, both Nathan and Lessing's opinions are divided: While the author was recognized by his friends and admirers as religiously tolerant - he already showed his relationship to the question of religion at the beginning of his writing career in 1749 in the comedy "Die Juden" -, he is heavily criticized by his opponents for his religious writings and ultimately banned from writing on religious topics.

Lessing wants to educate humanity to be tolerant. Everyone should be able to tolerate accepting other religions. For Lessing it was also important to bring in an image or a thought of a “general person”. This thought plays a very important role in the age of the Enlightenment. It is said at this time that everyone is the same and everyone has the same meaning as the other; one shouldn't make any distinctions. One must also act in a humanitarian manner, as the judge says. He thinks that each individual should act as he thinks, how to prove the authenticity of his religion. The true or best religion can only make believers to do so through their actions. Just as one can recognize the ring from the actions of the person who wears the real ring, one should also recognize the real religion from the actions of its followers. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing wants to illustrate to us that one cannot hold God or religion responsible for everything (e.g. catastrophes), but just as little can one thank God for something that has actually been established by humanity. One can only hold humanity, one's fellow human beings or oneself responsible for something good or bad.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Nathan the Wise, Reclam, 1964, 152 pages The main character in the drama is Nathan, a very enlightened, "wise" Jew, which is shown by his close friendship with Al Hafi, although he is Muslim. He is also the only Jew in the play (as the graphic below shows) because, as it turns out in the end, is his adopted daughter Recha actually a Christian. Opposite him are numerous supporting characters from the other two religions, Islam and Christianity. Nathan as the only Jew is at the same time a calm pool between the religions, who wants to make people more tolerant, although he himself stands by his own religion.

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Nathan who lost his seven sons and his wife in the persecution of Christians takes himself Recha to whom he received from Brother Bonafides was brought since her real father Wolf von Filneck who in reality Saladin's brother Assad was killed in the war. Nathan pulls Recha Although she is Jewish, she is very tolerant and lets herself develop freely according to her own will (e.g. 2960-3000). Recha has great respect and awe for your "father" and his paternal-authoritarian, enlightened and "wise" manner towards all.

As an antithesis to Rechas Jewish education stands Here yes, a fanatical Christian who stands for Nathan works as a housekeeper and at the same time a good friend of Recha is. Daja often serves Recha with good advice and tries to convince her of the merits of Christianity, which often leads to heated debates between the tolerant Nathan and those who are completely devoted to Christianity Here yes leads. Until later, through her fanaticism, she even becomes his undoing when she learns that Recha is a Christian. Another very important figure for the development of the piece is the Sultan Saladinwho really lived around 1138-93, as well as his sister who was very close to him Sittah. Saladin The ruler at the time of the Enlightenment, when absolutism generally prevailed, is a conservative, but very humane and enlightened ruler with a peace policy in favor of the people; but also a very careless one with regard to his money problems "... his treasure is much emptier than empty every day at sunset" (z.400), and his great influence over his sister Sittah. But despite these political skills, the personality of the Saladin be cleared up. Conversion takes place through Nathan and its ring parabola (e.g. 1900). He tells in such a skilful way that Saladin accepts Nathan's opinion, is positively enthusiastic and finally even Nathan’s Friend becomes. Furthermore can Saladin from his sister Sittah influence even though he disagrees, because his sister's will is stronger (e.g. 1740). The role of the antihero falls on him Patriarchs of Jerusalem, the most fanatical follower of Christianity, who is not Nathan condemned as a human being, but his religion and Nathan’s Jewish upbringing of a Christian. Not the religious attitude of the Patriarchs is bad, but rather its character itself. The patriarch however, he is not the only Christian; he still has some fellow believers. This, of course, adds the importance of the patriarch as a Christian has restricted. This becomes clear above all when paying attention to the monastery brother and the temple master. The monastery brother is strictly Christian, but he has no major aversions to other religions and even becomes friends with Nathan towards the end. The Templar is a bit fanatical at first, but soon comes to the conclusion that there should be tolerance among the religions. The Christian as such is not associated with the role of the antihero from the outset. The Templar Curt von Stauffe n and later correct Leu from Filneck is initially Nathan’s Thanks for rescuing Recha very tired, but later falls in love with her, is first a friend and then an opponent of Nathanwhen this got him married Recha forbids until it finally comes to a catastrophe and Nathan from Templar to the Patriarchs is betrayed. Soon afterwards the Temple Lord realizes his wrongdoing and also develops into a tolerant, enlightened person when it is finally revealed that it is with Recha is about Blanda von Filneck, the sister of Templar and that both father at the same time Assad, Saladins Brother is.

At the end of the story, all three religions and their representatives realize that they all belong to one family. This final scene is Lessing's wish. He wants people to be open-minded and tolerant of new thoughts and to be able to forgive others. Lessing's idea is a very enlightened one; he wants all people to see themselves as human beings, not Jews or Christians, and to know that everyone is connected.

Manuel Wohlgemuth, April 8th, 2001


I. Primary literature

1.Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim: Nathan the Wise, Reclam II. Secondary literature

1. Arendt, Dieter: Basics and thoughts on Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's Nathan der Weise, Verlag Moritz Diesterweg GmbH 6th edition

2. Sedding, Gerhard: Reading aids "Nathan the Wise", Ernst Klett Verlag 10th edition