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Title page for ETD etd-12052005-021000

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Hinneburg, Kristina Monika
Author's Email Address poetini@gmx.net
URN etd-12052005-021000
Title “Unsere Interpretationen vermitteln Aufklärung über uns selber.“ Die historische Politisierung des Nathan-Stoffes in der Deutsch-Amerikanischen Rezeption 1779, 1933 und ab 2001
Degree Master of Arts
Department German
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
John McCarthy Committee Member
Nina Warnke Committee Member
  • Lessing
  • Kulturbund
  • Ferdinand Bruckner
  • Paul D'Andrea
  • Nathan the Wise
  • reception
Date of Defense 2009-04-21
Availability unrestricted
The worldwide and continuous reception of Lessing’s play Nathan the Wise (1779) is an acknowledged phenomenon in German literary studies. Despite its many interpretations, little attention has so far been paid to the play’s political implications and how these are politicized. Naturally, a political interpretation gains more importance in times of polarization when a theater staging can potentially have a more influential outlook on politics. In 1779, Nathan the Wise referred to the conflict between German Jews and Christians, who considered themselves religiously superior. To overcome this hierarchy, Lessing draws a tolerant society based on the common values of all three monotheistic creeds. But Lessing was far ahead of his anti-Semitic time and his piece was condemned as heresy against Christianity. In 1933, when Hitler seized power, German anti-Semitism had changed from a religious to racial competition. Forced back into the “ghetto” of the Jüdische Kulturbund, Jewish artists pointed at the values Jews shared with Germans and chose Nathan the Wise for their theater premiere, though the play was condemned by critics as a fatal illusion. Just four years ago, after 9/11, Islamist fundamentalists began to constitute a new powerful force in world politics. Theaters both in Germany and the United States reacted to the terrorist attacks with new plays and the staging of classics such as Nathan the Wise. Strikingly, German performances stick to traditional interpretations with the forgiving Jew at centre, while in America thematically new adaptations have evolved. It is here where the political validity of Lessing’s classic is being updated.

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