Eva Spaeh '16

Modernizing G. E. Lessing’s "Nathan der Weise": a Radical Rethinking or a Dearth of Progress?

This project involved an in-depth analysis of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s German- language dramatic poem, Nathan der Weise (1779), as both a text and as a modern performance work. My research revealed that the controversial play makes a statement about equality across the teachings of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, as well as about the equal value of differing movements within18th century German Protestantism. The second component of my study analyzes three modern productions that were performed on stages across Germany. By staging the conflict-ridden reality of modern society, these three productions juxtapose reality with the idealized teaching associated with the legacy of Nathan der Weise. It is abundantly clear: the 21st century interpretations of the play no longer laud tolerance, rather the contemporary Nathan der Weise recognizes realities and subjects fantasies to scrutiny.