Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

* 22.01.1729 in Kamenz (Saxony); ✝ 15.02.1781 in Brunswick

Writer, Scholar, Librarian



Having had the benefit at school of an outstanding education, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing began to study theology at Leipzig in 1746, in accordance with his father’s wishes, and, later on, medicine. His matriculation at Wittenberg took place in 1748, but he moved in the same year to Berlin, where he contributed to various newspapers as a freelance writer. He also came into contact with a number of certain theatrical companies, for which he composed his first plays. Troubled by a persistent lack of funds he was forced in 1760 to accept the position of secretary in Breslau. In 1767 he moved to Hamburg, where he found employment as dramaturge and theatrical at the German National Theatre. Finally, in 1770 he took on the long-term post of librarian in Wolfenbuttel.

Lessing’s works on Shakespeare are limited to scattered references in his treatises, which nevertheless proved to be influential in the history of German Shakespeare reception As early as Briefen, die neueste Literatur betreffend Lessing describes Shakespeare as a genius incarnating the spirit of the people, and as a world-class poet drawing inspiration from the popular imagination and folk-verse. In Hamburgische Dramaturgie Lessing goes on to favourably contrast the great Englishman to Voltaire; Lessing makes clear how Shakespeare gave form to the sublime, the horrifying, the melancholic – precisely those qualities most compatible with the German character. According to Lessing, Shakespeare was thus far more accessible to the Germans than the French were – and in particular Voltaire; an accessibility only strengthened by Shakespeare’s ability to fulfill the spirit of an Aristotelian theatrical doctrine of which he was formally ignorant. 



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Secondary Literature

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Citation and Licence

Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim, in: The Digital Shakespeare Memorial Album. Edited by Christa Jansohn. URI: (Accessed on 14.04.2024)

This text is published under the following licence: CC BY-ND 3.0 DE. Digitzed media reproduced with the permission of the library of Birmingham.

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