MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of People

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Authors: Pavel Yudin and Mark Rosenthal
Written: 1951
First published: 1954 in A Short Philosophical Dictionary, fifth edition
Source: https://filslov.ru/216-lessing-gotgold-yefraim.html
Translated by: Anton P.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Lessing Gotthold Ephraim (1729-1781) – one of the greatest figures of German and European Enlightenment, art theorist, publicist, playwright. A democrat, a fighter against the feudal-serf system and its ideology, Lessing in aesthetics and philosophy acted as a theoretician of revolutionary bourgeois realism of the 18th century. In his philosophical writings, Lessing cracked down on religious pietism, defending the idea of ??religious tolerance and the right of a free mind. Reflecting the weakness and immaturity of the bourgeois liberation movement in Germany at the time, Lessing remained largely an idealist.

His criticism of the dominant feudal order was also not revolutionarily sharpened. Of Lessing’s major theoretical works, the most famous are Laocoon (1766) and Hamburg Dramaturgy (1767-1769). In these works, Lessing developed a consistent and subtle criticism of the noble classicism of the 17th century. Lessing showed the isolation of this art from the life of the people and was one of the first in Germany to decisively declare Shakespeare’s work a model of nationality and realism. Lessing’s ideal was civic and heroic art, in the spirit of the art of ancient Greece and Rome. In this spirit, Lessing strove to revolutionize German theater and literature in general. Lessing’s aesthetic views do not go beyond the boundaries of bourgeois enlightenment. He is looking for ideal images in the distant past.

Lessing’s plays Sara Sampson, Minna von Barnhelm, Emilia Galotti and Nathan the Wise, with the social depth of ideas, the freshness of artistic language and the boldness of realism against German absolutism, constituted an era in German literature of the 18th century. But Lessing’s plays remain within the genre of bourgeois “philistine drama”, despite the fact that in a number of his works he tries to overcome the limitations of this genre (for example, elements of heroism in Emilia Galotti, an attempt to create a philosophical drama in Nathan the Wise). The historical role of Lessing as a theorist, as a radical and daring educator is highly appreciated by the progressive forces of the German people.