|image by Jackie Mishol|
How to begin to describe such a person?
Schiller credited him with showing the world how to use the theatre as the instructional podium of the enlightenment, "a public mirror of human life."
Goethe said of him "there are many men as clever and as cultivated, but where is such character?" and "Lessing would not allow himself the lofty title of genius, but his permanent influence bears witness against him."
Shaw called him "the most eminent of dramatic critics" who was reproached for "not only cutting off his victim's heads but holding them up afterwards to show that there were no brains in them."
Stanislavski listed him among the greatest influences in Western drama. Bertolt Brecht borrowed from him heavily. Brian Johnston credits him with a revolution in theatre that made Ibsen's work possible. Hannah Arendt, in 1955, remarked that one component of his greatness “was the fact that he never allowed supposed objectivity to cause him to lose sight of the real relationship to the world and the real status in the world of the things or men he attacked or praised."
Lessing took the best of whatever was available in the written or spoken word and combined it all to make something better. His impact is felt strongly in the theatre - we in the modern world still struggle constantly, and all over the world, to live up to his expectations. He was the first dramaturg, as we know the job today. He was a powerful force in the Enlightenment, a powerful voice in the liberation of the Jews in Germany, a crusader for human rights, compassion and understanding. His work played a significant role in the establishment of the United States' much-treasured freedom of religion.
After the publication of his plays Die Juden and Nathan der Weise, a number of German Jews adopted the surname Lessing in his honor, out of gratitude. One of these was the grandfather of Theodor Lessing, who would become an outspoken firebrand who opposed the rise of Nazism, and lost his life for it.
Lessing's 283rd Birthday would be January 22. To mark this day, dramaturgy collectives all over North America will be holding fundraisers in his name to support early career dramaturgs who wish to travel to the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas conference, as they have done for many years. I doubt that any other memorial would make him as proud - certainly not this ham-fisted eulogy I have just written.
If you are a reader of this blog who is not able to purchase some baked goods from our team on Friday, January 27, in the lobby of Purnell, then please contact Julie Felise Dubiner <firstname.lastname@example.org> at LMDA to donate directly or to set up your own Lessing Day Bakesale.