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Gotthold Lessing , playwright, critic, humanist philosopher and polemicist was a leading figure of the German enlightnement era. From his immense literary output two plays stand out - The Jews and Nathan the Wise - for the passion of the writing and the timeless urgency of the message.


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Though differering greatly in form and content, both plays are eloquent pleas for human beings to desist from mutual persecution on racial or religious grounds. The relevance of Lessing's thinking in today's world is all too clear. They are published here in new English versions by the award-winning translator, Noel Clark.

Read on your iOS and Android devices Get more info. Lessing's answer in Nathan the Wise is that what really matters in life is the disposition of the believer. If he lives a virtuous life, respecting God and his fellow human beings regardless of their religion, then he is on the true path. Nathan, Saladin, and the friar all demonstrate this theme with their actions, as does the ring parable with its story. Nathan takes in Recha, a baptized Christian, only days after Christians killed his wife and seven sons.

In doing so, he demonstrates that real love comes without conditions. That she is a Christian does not affect his decision; what does is that a child in need comes to his attention. He rears her with unconditional love, instilling in her the virtues that all religions value. Other major characters—Saladin, Sittah, the friar, and eventually the Templar—also recognize the importance of unconditional love.

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Unity Amid Division and Diversity. Nathan the Wise demonstrates that unity and harmony are possible even among persons of diverse backgrounds. Consider that Saladin and Sittah are Muslims. The knight is the Christian son of Saladin's brother, Assad, a Muslim. Recha is the daughter of a Muslim, Assad, but was baptized a Christian and reared by a Jew. As Assad's brother, Saladin becomes the uncle of the knight and Recha, and Sittah becomes their aunt.

Nathan is the adoptive father of Recha and thus a non-blood brother of Saladin and Sittah. They all become one family a the end of the play. The climax occurs when Nathan reveals that the Templar and Recha are the children of Saladin's deceased brother, Assad.

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This development unites the Templar, a Christian knight; Recha, the adopted daughter of a Jew; and Saladin, a Muslim ruler. Thus, they—like the three religions—become members of the same family. One may divide the plot structure into three divisions with the titles "Ignorance," "Enlightenment," and Unity. Moreover, Saladin lacks the answer to an important question: Which of the three great religions in Jerusalem is the true religion?

Nathan's story about the three rings enlightens Saladin, and his research into the background of Assad with the help of the friar enlightens the knight and Recha about backgrounds. After enlightenment replaces ignorance, the principal characters unite into a single family. Maltreatment of Jews was commonplace among Christians and other non-Jews at the time of the Crusades, as it was in other eras of history.

Two Jewish Plays: The Jews and Nathan the Wise

Ironically, however, the most Christlike character in Lessing's play is Nathan. He practices Christ's admonishments to "love thy neighbor" Matthew When the Templar asks the permission of Nathan to marry his daughter, Recha, Nathan says he no longer has any claims on her.


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A relative of Recha has been found out, a brother, and she must be delivered into the brother's hands, Nathan says. The reader and playgoer learn at the end of the play that the brother is the Templar. The Templar's military enemy is the Muslim army. At the end of the play, the reader learns that the Templar is the son of a Muslim.

Two Jewish Plays: The Jews and Nathan the Wise - Gotthold Lessing - Google Книги

He says no more, for he is summoned by the Sultan who seeks a loan. Saladin is impressed by the gentleness and wisdom of Nathan, and impulsively asks what religion seems to him the truest and best. In answer, Nathan relates a story: Whoever wore the ring was endowed with the magic power to win the love of God and man.

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When the owner of the ring died, he left it to his favorite son; and when the son died, he left it in turn to his favorite son. He decided to have made two more rings, so exactly like the first that he was unable to distinguish among them, and gave one to each son.

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But the sons fought among themselves, each claiming to have the original--exactly, Nathan points out, as the Jews, the Mohammedans and the Christians are wrangling about their three faiths. Asked for his own advice, Nathan quotes Saladin the words of the judge to whom the sons came: Of this you may be sure: The Sultan is deeply impressed.

He bids Nathan go in peace, but the merchant offers the loan of his gold, stipulating that he must withhold a part of his fortune to pay his debt to the young Templar. The Sultan recalls the youth who resembles his brother, and bids Nathan bring him to his court.

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Meanwhile, Daya, the Christian companion of Recha, has told the Templar that Recha is a Christian who Nathan had stolen as an infant and reared as a Jewess, a crime punishable by death at the stake. The Templar, who has come to love Recha, resolves to rescue her from Jewish heresies. He repeats Daya's charge to the Christian Patriarch who sends a lay brother to spy upon Nathan.