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One of the most frequently performed and widely read comedies of the eighteenth century, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's Nathan the Wise (1779) combines rich characterization with an engaging plot. Set in Muslim-ruled Jerusalem at the time of the Crusades, it deals with universal themes — including the nature of God, antisemitism, wealth and poverty, and the conflict between love and duty. Today the play is as timely as ever. This edition, the first English version expressly intended for undergraduates, contains an insightful introduction that discusses the play, Lessing and the Enlightenment, and the situation of Jews in eighteenth-century Europe. Additionally, there are five related historical documents — each with a context-setting headnote — illustrations, a chronology, questions for consideration, and a selected bibliography.
A Note about the Text and Translation
List of Illustrations
Introduction: Beyond Tolerance — Lessing, Nathan the Wise, and the Legacy of the Enlightenment
Nathan the Wise
1. Johann Andrea Eisenmenger, Jewry Revealed, 1700
2. Christian Wilhelm von Dohm, On the Civic Improvement of the Jews, 1781
3. François-Louis-Claude Marin, History of Saladin, 1758
4. Moses Mendelssohn, On Lessing, 1786
5. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Theodicy, 1710
A Gotthold Ephraim Lessing Chronology (1729-1786)
Questions for Consideration
Posted September 9, 2006
Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's 'Nathan the Wise' (1779) is not only one of the most important plays in German literary history, but is an important manifestation of the struggle for Jewish emancipation and human rights in 18th-century Germany. Lessing's protagonist Nathan was modelled on Lessing's friend, the Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. The play's philosophical avowal that adherents of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are equally pleasing in the eyes of God was truly revolutionary in 1779. Both the philosophical underpinnings of the play and its literary and poetic excellence make it an indispensable part of our Western heritage. You owe it to yourself to read this one.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.