Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (January 22, 1729 – February 15, 1981) was a German writer and one of the most outstanding representatives of the Enlightenment era. His plays and theoretical writings substantially influenced the development of German literature. He is widely considered by theater historians to be the first dramatist. His theoretical and critical writings are remarkable for their often witty and ironic style and their unerring polemics.
Today his own works appear as prototypes of the later developed bourgeois German drama. Scholars see Miss Sara Sampson and Emilia Galotti as among the first bourgeois tragedies, Minna von Barnhelm (Minna of Barnhelm) as the model for many classic German comedies, Nathan der Weise (Nathan the Wise) as the first German Ideendrama (drama of ideas). His theoretical writings Laocoon and Hamburg Dramaturgy (Hamburgische Dramaturgie) set the standards for the discussion of aesthetic and literary theoretical principles.
In his religious and philosophical writings he defended the faithful Christian's right for freedom of thought. At one point, Lessing was silenced through a law that took away his freedom from censorship, to which he responded with his most influential play, Nathan der Weise (Nathan the Wise).
The idea of freedom (for the theater against the dominance of its French model; for religion from the church's dogma) was his central theme throughout his life. Therefore he also stood up for the liberation of the upcoming middle and upper class from the nobility making up their minds for them.
He died at the age of 52.