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“Nathan the Wise” Play by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Nathan the Wise is a dramatic work by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing which is outstanding for its close relation to the epoch of the Enlightenment. It is an outstanding German play in five acts that discloses most of the ideals of the era. The theme of rationality in relation to religion is highlighted in it. Thus, the survey on the reasons of the protagonist in his attitudinal background is analyzed in the work. Nathan and his wisdom are represented for the purpose to work out the religious problem for mankind. This idea is vital. It is significant to analyze the play so that to provide solutions for current controversies on the religious grounds between representatives of various religions. In this respect, the main criticism is implied in the paper by means of the identification of the Enlightenment ideals. The ideal of reason is designated in the paper to be paramount for solving the conflict in the play. Though, the methodology presupposes direct identification of reason in the conversation between the main characters. Not to make the problem grow due to the religious contradictions, there should be a mere extent of tolerance and common sense in people. The conclusion of the play states that there should be equality in the measurement of peoples’ beliefs, notwithstanding the gods to which they are worshipping. Lessing’s interpretation in the play shows his philosophical position as of tolerance in religious aspects. Thus, being wise, one should make huge efforts in the field of reason.

The description of the play can be evaluated as the greatest attempt of the author to point out the significance of religious tolerance for people. This is also an attempt to show the distance in the understanding of the world between representatives of three religions, namely: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The enlightened nature of the three characters, Nathan, sultan Saladin, and Templar, is depicted in terms of the main motives of the era. In other words, each of them stays for the idea of personal devotion toward definite religion. The first glimpse at which a reader should concentrate attention is that the protagonist is represented, as a Jew. The actions take place in terms of the third crusade.

Hence, the idea of tolerance in the religious field should be prior within different nations. There should be no imposition of some alien beliefs. It violates a man’s right to choose the religion which he/she adores. The reason should manifest the readiness of people to communicate, notwithstanding their religious preferences. Thereupon, in Act I the protagonist has a conversation with two women, Daya and Recha. Here Nathan is represented in the role of a prophet who provides instructions and moral remarks for them. The significance of the predominant role of the reason is depicted by Nathan in one of his remarks to Daya:

Weaves wild enthusiasms to her dazzled spirit,
Now clothing Passion in the garb of Reason,
And Reason now in Passion’s–do I err?
This last is Recha’s fate–Romantic notions – (Lessing 1:1 4).

However, some people would say that without signifying a definite religion, it can defeat owing to the oppression of another religious thought. This assumption is fair in some respects, but the military bloody approach is not a way out. The play is concerned with a key concept of Ring Parable. Altogether with the concept of reason and humane, Ring Parable constitutes the unification of all religions. By such an attempt Nathan was apt to communicate with sultan Saladin. The enlightened Nathan is able to point out that “sweet illusions” are worthless when the “sweeter truth” appears (Lessing 1:1 4). Here the explanation of the ring and promises for its owners correlates the idea of the fairy tale. However, the idea of reason is displayed in the conversation of Nathan with Saladin. Nevertheless, this legend about the ring is also a manifestation of the reason in Nathan.

The play is really rational in its conceptualization. The subject matter of Ring Parable expresses the solution for making people stop struggling. It is owing to the fact that neither Nathan nor Saladin and Templar were the owners of the ring. So there is a ground for making a conclusion about the sense of their difference. Correct thinking and reasoning about the world and its highest values, meaning religion, is a lacking factor in the plat to be replenished. The conversation between Nathan and Templar touches upon a man mindful of people. The main point is about how a templar should think. Here the arguments by Templar are confronted with more persuasive counterarguments by Nathan the Wise:

Still templars –
And only OUGHT to think–and all because
The rules and vows enjoin it to the ORDER –
I know how good men think–know that all lands
Produce good men (Lessing 2:3 22).

The key concept of the Ring Parable is seen, as Nathan’s means for making no quarrels among the characters. It is witty indeed because the bloodiest wars were raised on the basis of religious controversies. A real Wiseman is that one who is able to have an idea for living prospects concerning every case of life. This is emphasized in the way Lessing represents the stubbornness of the protagonist. The rational way for having a pleasant outlook in the eyes of God is considered by Nathan with the ring. This metaphor is used in the play to show the relation to medieval concepts. The concepts of true devotion and brevity in life make a juncture with religious aspects. The points on idealism are disclosed in the discussion rather than simple and familiar deism. The talk between Nathan and Saladin is rather emotional, but not without the mere extent of reason. It is first seen in the response of Nathan when he rejects to call himself the Wise. This illustrates his personal criticism, as being subordinate to Higher Power.

The Aristotelian six elements of a play are represented in Nathan the Wise with the particular determination of all features. The plot is appropriately structured. The language reflects the poetical trends of the epoch. Characters are selected according to their origin and preferences in religious aspects of life. The theme represents Enlightenment ideals. The spectacle is highly emotional, and the music of it seems to be silent with spontaneous pauses or overtones.

The play by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing Nathan the Wise provides main insights in the sphere of international and multicultural relations. It is an illustration of how people in most cases do not follow the way of reason in religious prospects. The key concepts of reason, humane, and Ring Parable provide the solutions for the discussion. Moreover, Nathan provides the model of a man with rational thinking. It touches upon what is happening or what can be inflicted by means of peoples’ controversies in the point of great nicety, namely religion.


Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim. Nathan the Wise. New York: Cassell & Company, 1893.


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