Gotthold Ephraim Lessing Bibliography

Der Junge Gelehrte (The Young Scholar) 1748
Lessing’s first play, written whilst a student at Leipzig university.
Der Freigeist (The Freethinker) and Die Juden (The Jews) 1749
Two of several plays Lessing wrote during the time he spent in Berlin, where between 1748 to 1755 he was a drama and literary critic.
Gendanken über Herrnhuter 1750
“Man was made to act, not to split hairs”.
Miss Sara Sampson 1755
Translated in 1789 and known as the first tragedy of middleclass life in German drama and which marked a break with the French drama that dominated the German stage. The play was inspired by George Lillo’s The London Merchant (1731) and by Richardson’s novels. It was performed successfully in Frankfurt an der Oder.
Briefe, die Neueste Literatur Betreffend (Letters on the Latest in Literature) 1759
Journal founded by Lessing, Mendelssohn and Nicolai, which ran until 1765. In was here that Lessing insisted that Shakespeare would be a better model for German dramatists that the classical French dramatists.
Laokoon oder über die Grenzen der Malerei und Poesie 1766
An attack on Winckelmann’s aesthetics and a rejection of the Horatian doctrine ut pictura poesis based on a clarification of the distinction between poetry, which evokes passion and action, and painting, which aims at the classical ideals of static harmony.

“One must be a young man to recognize what effect Lessing’s Laocoön had upon us. It carried us from the region of poverty-stricken notions to the open country of thought.” (Goethe, Dichtung und Wahrheit.)
Minna von Barnhelm oder das Soldatenglück 1767
The first German comedy on a grand scale and its first political play.
Briefe Antiquarische (Letters on Archaeology) 1768
The Letters on Archaeology were published between 1768 and 1769.
Hamburg Dramaturgy 1769
In 1766 Hamburg founded a “German National Theatre” and in 1767 Lessing became its Dramaturg, a mixture of literary adviser to playwrights, observer of actors, reviewer and public educator. The venture failed in 1768. Lessing collected his papers from this period and published them in two volumes. The papers took the form of notices of over 50 performances appearing 104 parts.

Lessing attacked French tragedy of the sort written by Corneille and Voltaire, though he praised the “common reality” of Diderot. He also analyzed Aristotle’s concept of the nature of tragic passion, holding that pity and fear should be translated into virtuous action, and pleading for the principle of dramatic unity.
The Disbanded Officer 1769
A translation appeared in 1786.
Wie die Alten den Tod Gebildet (How the Ancients Depicted Death) 1769
A work which contrasts the ugly skeleton figure of the middle ages with the youthful spirit with the lowered torch, who the Greeks viewed as the brother of sleep.
Emilia Galott 1772
One of Lessing’s most popular plays and Germany’s first major bourgeois tragedy, based on a Roman legend.
Zur Geschichte und Literatur 1773
The Contributions to History and Literature were published between 1773 and 1781.
Ernst und Falk 1778
Written between 1778-80, consisting of dialogues on freemason lines, pleading for men to behave humanely, and which had to be published posthumously.
Nathan the Wise 1779
A defence of Judaism and tolerance based on a portrait of Lessing’s friend Moses Mendelssohn. An iambic dramatic poem where among the representatives of the three religions - Islamic (Saladin), Chriatian (the Templar) and Jewish (Nathan) - only the Jew can embody ideal humanity. Its first performance took place in Berlin in 1783.
The Education of the Human Race 1780
Based on an optimistic philosophy of history, Lessing last work seeks to reconcile reason and revelation by anticipating a time when people ‘will do good, because it is good’. In 100 paragraphs he lays down his belief in mankind’s infinite progress; in the history of religion Lessing discerns the development of human consciousness, which he views as preparing the way for moral freedom, and considers that salvation and eternity are possible but form an infinite distance.