A New and Complete Translation

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  • Aaron C. Thomas

    • Comment on Essay 1 on November 6th, 2013

      This immediately begs the question of “hero” in the HD. (A question hugely important for tragedy.) Is Lessing’s word something like Dryden’s? Like the way Barthes speaks of Racine’s “heroes”? It is not an Aristotelian word, right? This may not be the proper place for a note on this, but it is a question that arises for me.

    • Comment on Essay 1 on November 6th, 2013

      Ought this to be latter?


    • Comment on Essay 1 on November 6th, 2013

      Necessity is a term from Greek tragedy, isn’t it? William Arrowsmith is constantly using it as a way of thinking through the most difficult of Euripides’ tragedies – I am thinking particularly of the Heracles and the Hecuba. And yet it seems here that Lessing uses the word without this resonance. Is Lessing’s necessity much simpler than the necessity of a character from Euripides (or at least Arrowsmith’s version of that necessity)?

    • Comment on Essay 1 on November 6th, 2013

      Wendy, this website is the coolest thing. Does it make sense for me to keep posting questions about word nuances the way I am doing? I am in love with this whole enterprise!

    • Comment on Essay 2 on November 11th, 2013

      I have to admit to being confused with the sentence beginning “But on the other hand…”. Who is the subject of the “boast” section of this sentence? Could comma placement help?

  • Aaron C. Thomas

    • Comment on Essay 12 on May 23rd, 2014

      Might we benefit from a brief synopsis of Le Philosophe Marié? You give one for Voltaire’s play below, and despite Lessing’s insistence on how well known the text is, his own is much more well known than Destouches’s.

    • Comment on Essay 12 on May 23rd, 2014

      These notes are SO helpful.

    • Comment on Essay 13 on May 23rd, 2014

      Is there room to talk a little more about L.A. Gottsched? She is clearly the star of Essay 13. 🙂

    • Comment on Essay 13 on June 2nd, 2014

      Perfect! Thanks.

  • ALD

    • Comment on Essay 1 on March 3rd, 2016

      The proper use of heroic sentiment shows up with Antigone only willing to keep to the laws of the Gods. It would have greatly diminished that play had both sisters to that stance.

    • Comment on Essay 2 on March 3rd, 2016

      I have never heard it before. I like it and it is an excellent warning for all writers. Deaths should be linked to earlier events to satisfy our internal logic of causation.

  • Daniel Smith

    • Comment on Essay 10 on May 20th, 2015

      Is there a St. Hilar in German? The French would probably be Saint-Hilaire, which is a frequent place name and surname.  Hilaire is usually translated into English as Hilary.

  • eeschray

    • Comment on Essay 9 on October 30th, 2014

      I find that this statement holds true other than just theater. We see this repeated in history, novels, movies, and real life experiences.

  • Elizabeth Coen

    • The translator’s explanation in the footnote is somewhat unclear. Was Lessing’s “Ankuendigung” or “Notice” as translated here “the gazette” distributed at the theater’s opening?  Or is Lessing referring to still another publication? If the Preface translated here is that gazette, is there a different preface published with the collected essays in 1769? And where might I find that alternative preface? 

  • gruat

    • Comment on General Comments on July 25th, 2013



      I found the ‘new and complete translation of Hamburg Dramturgy’, by G.E Lessing, yet only 4 of the essays are available…what about rest of the 10th?

      Thanks a lot,


      Émilie Gruat

  • Heather Gibson

    • Comment on Essay 2 on November 2nd, 2014

      If morality is the core of what defines a Christian tragedy, how would the audience react if morality wasn’t the core and spiritual findings was?

  • Jack Riley

    • Comment on Essay 17 on October 30th, 2014

      After glancing over how much of the original text Zimmern missed in her initial translation of these essays, it flummoxes me how this is possible.  Why would Zimmern neglect to translate this much of Lessing’s critiques?  For convenience’s sake?

  • Jatavia

    • Comment on Essay 14 on November 6th, 2014

      I understand what is being translated although it seems that some of the text is simply repeated and could be translated further more.

  • Leah Schatz

    • Comment on Essay 2 on October 30th, 2014



      This passage talks about those who consider the state “a high road to hell”. The work I have attached here is an example of a person who proclaimed just that, but the people and the society of the time took note of him and listened and ended the english restoration period. It is interesting that Lessing calls such a man a fool.

    • Comment on Essay 2 on October 30th, 2014

      It may be helpful to footnote an example of these people who damn theatre. One example is here, in Jeremy Collier’s “Profaneness of the English Stage”. While this particular work may not have had anything to do with lessing, it may be useful or a reader to realize that while it was usually religious powers who objected to the theatre, the people of society do at times listen to these figures, jut like when Jeremy Collier’s work ended the english restoration of theatre. https://ia802303.us.archive.org/33/items/shortviewofimmor00coll/shortviewofimmor00coll.pdf

  • Lilia Hinojosa

    • Comment on Essay 7 on November 3rd, 2014

      Lessing’s sentiments about drama caught my attention because it brings to light issues of the time period about the legitimacy of theatre. The persecution of theatre was justified by deducing it to be immoral. Lessing seems to be saying that although theatre addresses issues with characters and story lines that should not be emulated, having that exposure to such subjects allows for the audience to become aware and reflective. (At least, in good theatre.) Theatre is the voice for the voiceless, a stage that represents facets of human existence in a way that makes us passionate about our relationships with each other and our society.

  • mchemers

    • Comment on General Comments on August 6th, 2013

      Dear gruat, We are placing the essays as we complete them. Please continue to watch this space. -Ed.

    • Comment on Essay 2 on November 6th, 2012

      We invite our readers to inform us whether they have ever found this joke about the fifth act in any prior publication. -Michael Chemers

  • monica

  • monique

    • Comment on General Comments on October 29th, 2014

      The process of this modern and complete translation of Lessing’s Hamburg Dramaturgy is greatly appreciated! The modern nature of the language used to translate makes observing Lessing’s concepts far more engaging and comprehensible for contemporary readers. By providing a complete translation, readers are permitted to engage in the logic of Lessing’s ideas and criticism in their entirety.  I will be enthusiastically waiting for all 101 essays to be completely translated!

    • Comment on Essay 1 on October 29th, 2014

      The wording of the phrase “and even Serena seems to have no small desire to do so”, may produce a slight miscalculation of Serena’s desire of death in Cronegks’ Olindo and Sophronia with readers that are not familiar with the entirety of the play. The previous clause expresses that Evander wants to die for the sake of religion, but the following clause expresses that Serena has “no small desire to do so” (which seems to suggest that Serena has ‘no desire’ of death for the sake of religion). However, these two clauses are joined by “and even” indicating that they are similar in thought. In the case that the phrase “no small desire” is intended to generate the implication that Serena has ‘plenty of desire’, it would be of better correspondence to make this implication clear. A footnote to briefly explain may ease this confusion.

  • Morgan Scott

    • Comment on Essay 9 on October 29th, 2014

      So is Lessing saying that some characters should not be so exaggerated or so boring or his he saying that even the most “boring” of characters can show who they are by their actions? also is he questioning the notion that play should take place over a 24 hour span?

  • nbaldyga

    • Comment on Essay 12 on June 2nd, 2014

      Thank you! And thank you for your helpful comments.  

    • Comment on Essay 12 on June 2nd, 2014

      Thank you for your comment! It’s a good point. We will certainly keep this in mind for the next edition of the project. 

    • Comment on Essay 13 on June 2nd, 2014

      Thanks for your comment. L.A. Gottsched is certainly worth knowing. We will keep this in mind for the next edition. In the meantime, for more information about the author, see Susanne Kord’s Little Detours: Letters and Plays by Luise Gottsched. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2000. 

  • Nitsan Scharf

    • Comment on Essay 9 on October 30th, 2014

      I’m curious, as I’ve never read Julie, but this intrigued me. Did Rousseau not include this scene because he thought it might be distasteful? Lessing does go on to say that he was worried about the staging, but when he found it was done with grace his worries disappeared and he loved it. Was there a risk of the kind of useless, distasteful violence we see so often in today’s media (and is so hard to get right)?

  • Patrick J

    • Comment on Essay 2 on October 29th, 2014

      In the Helen Zimmern translation the joke is present and is worded very similarly “‘But what did she die of?’ – ‘Of what? Of the fifth act,’ was the reply. In very truth the fifth act is an ugly evil disease that carries off many a one to whom the first four acts promised a longer life.” When reading that translation it was a nice break from the tedium of her language, but felt quite out of place; however in this translation it feels quite fitting, because this translation feels less “stuffy” or “pompous,” for lack of a better term (to me at least).

  • Peter Erickson

    • Comment on Essay 1 on March 25th, 2014

      I always thought Lessing’s pejorative reference to the play not being originally intended to be staged in “Bohemia or Spain” was striking because the inaugural performance of the play was indeed not in Hamburg but in Catholic Vienna.  Roschmann (whose version the Hamburger Nationaltheater also used) clearly finished the play precisely for the Catholic stage.

      Lessing is thus, in an interesting way, omitting the early production history of the play.

    • Comment on Essay 1 on March 25th, 2014

      A footnote might be useful here that Lessing seems to believe Cronegk transformed the image of Virgin Mary into one of the Crucifixion in order to avoid offending the sensibilities of a Protestant audience.

      Also: Louis-Sebastien Mercier, in a later French version of Cronegk’s play, omitted the icon altogether, instead motivating the persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem through the supposed desecration of a Koran.

      Wouldn’t it make sense to keep “picture” as “image” here, since Lessing uses Bild throughout, and it sets up his “an image is an image” better?

    • Comment on Essay 1 on March 25th, 2014

      Footnote on the significance of the term “Bewunderung” (admiration) for early modern drama theory?

    • Comment on Essay 2 on March 25th, 2014

      A word of caution on footnote 2.1:  While it is true in Tasso that Clorinde finds out that she was originally born a Christian, Cronegk omits this fact in his depiction of her conversion.

      Footnote 2.2:  You might want to spell out why natural causality, which Lessing insists on here, would be necessary for theater as an instrument of moral improvement.  He isn’t explicit here.  More clear elsewhere?

      “Applying this to the fourth scene of the third act…”  Footnote that Lessing got this wrong?  Actually the fourth scene of the fourth act in Cronegk’s play.

      “These are subtle, elevated circumstances…”  You’ve translated “erheblich” with “elevated” here.  I wonder if the English word “substantial,” although less literal, would convey more the sense that Lessing believes her motivations (familial loyalty, her impending death) are worldly and concrete rather than schwärmerisch.

    • Comment on Essay 2 on March 25th, 2014

      “If something of the sort had not been necessary in order to keep peace among his audience…”

      This is a tough phrase to translate: “wenn nicht zur Beruhigung des Zuschauers etwas hätte geschehen müssen.”

      The translation feels to me a little like Voltaire feared audience members might start to fight and argue with one another, but I always assumed Lessing meant that Voltaire (whom Lessing depicts as clearly skeptical about the possibility of radical, religious conversion through the intervention of divine grace) didn’t want to offend the religious sensibilities of his more pious audience?  And his audience would prefer that a noble savage become Christian by the end of the play?

    • Comment on Essay 7 on March 25th, 2014

      I’ve always wondered why Garrick’s portrayal of Hamlet being frightened by a ghost should have become such a famous example of his talent as an actor.

      Does it come from Fielding?  Is there more literature on this question?

      It’s especially significant here since Lessing is about to embark on a lengthy discussion of Hamlet, Voltaire, and ghosts.

  • ppatel512

    • Comment on Essay 1 on October 30th, 2014

      Does Lessing believe in Christianity or in personal beliefs?

  • rberlin

    • Comment on Essay 9 on October 30th, 2014

      I find the use of “we” when Lessing references the general audience of the time period to be quite interesting.  It seems to be indicative of his belief that general interest in theater has shifted away from neoclassic views and royal or “great” characters, and towards a focus on middle-class heroes and smaller actions.  Lessing applies this shift in interest, a shift which he staunchly supports, to the general theater-going populace with the use of “we.”

  • Robert C

    • Comment on Essay 5 on October 4th, 2017

      These thoughts are developed further in his work Laocoon. I find it particularly interesting that he notes theater to be between poetry and the visual arts, though it does make sense. In Laocoon he seems to be extra-critical of painting and what it can do versus what poetry can, the main difference of which is that poetry can “move.” I wonder if his thoughts on theater changed later in his life.

  • Robinson

    • Comment on Essay 6 on October 30th, 2014

      I don not quite understant how could Lessing uesd the original script of a play as a commentary and stated “they need no commentary’. In my opinion, it is a way of being unprofessional as a dramaturg.

  • samanthadoolittle

    • Comment on Essay 2 on October 27th, 2014

      I’ve never seen this joke before; I quite appreciated it.

  • The progression of the red thread | rosiethomasdrama

    • Comment on Essay 2 on December 22nd, 2015

      […] oblivious as we’re accusing our audience of being. In his Hamburg Dramaturgy, Lessing states that “Moral improvement was to be effected through an appeal to spectators capacity for compassion, rat…. So we are now aiming to make the audience empathise, and see themselves in the approaches to this […]

  • tierracoates

    • Comment on Essay 14 on December 22nd, 2014

      I believe that this was very eloquently translated and it was also quite accurate in its entity. Through my own experience in everyday life, I have noticed that it the difference between caring for individuals versus caring for a population is quite vast. It seems that while people want to care for problems that more immense populations have, it is significantly easier to identify with individuals and their struggles.

  • Wendy Arons

    • Comment on General Comments on October 20th, 2017

      Dear Émilie, The entire translation is now online! Enjoy!

    • Comment on Essay 1 on November 6th, 2013

      This isn’t going to answer your question, but for clarification: Lessing’s phrase here is “heldenmütiger Diensteifer,” which we translate as “heroic sense of duty” (losing, unfortunately, the idea of “eagerness” implicit in “Eifer”).

    • Comment on Essay 1 on November 6th, 2013

      yep.  thanks!

    • Comment on Essay 1 on April 20th, 2014

      On “picture” – you’re right.  It should be “image” again; it’s “Bild” throughout, and we shouldn’t correct Lessing’s repetition by introducing a new word.  Thanks for your sharp eye!

    • Comment on Essay 2 on November 3rd, 2012

      We invite readers to suggest a better translation for “Lichtputzer” than “candlesnuffer”

    • Comment on Essay 2 on November 11th, 2013

      Good question.  The subject is the person who could want evil for evil’s sake, but perhaps a repetition of the subject is in order to clarify the sentence.  Maybe a better rendering would be something like: “…or that he could act according to vicious principles whose viciousness he recognizes and could even boast of those principles to himself and others.” (The rule is that a comma should not come between a subject and its verb, so as tempting as it is to put a comma after recognizes it would be a grammatical error…) On the next revision, we’ll give some thought to making this sentence less clunky.

    • Comment on Essay 2 on April 20th, 2014

      Thanks for your suggestion, Peter. I don’t think we meant to convey that L thought V feared his audience would fight among themselves!  Perhaps a better rendition of the thought might be: “If something of the sort had not been necessary to pacify [or calm] the spectator.”  Or maybe: “…to satisfy the sensibilities of the spectator.” We’ll work on it for the final draft.

    • Comment on Essay 2 on April 20th, 2014

      Good point on “erheblich” – these are the kinds of suggestions that are really helpful to us as we polish the translation. Thanks, Peter.

    • Comment on Essay 2 on November 11th, 2014

      Thank you for the links to Collier’s text! There are, indeed, parallels between anti-theatrical polemics in 18c England and those in 18c Germany.

    • Comment on Essay 5 on December 3rd, 2015

      comfortable with the moderation to which art obliges them ….

    • Comment on Essay 10 on May 21st, 2015

      Daniel, thank you for catching this! We brought over the name from German, but of course that would have been a translation from the French originally. It would indeed be better to use the common English name instead of the Germanized version. We’ll fix for the final draft.

    • Comment on Essay 14 on November 11th, 2014

      If I understand your comment correctly, you are noting that there is repetition in our translation. This is a dilemma we’ve grappled with as translators – that is, deciding where we should replicate repetition that occurs in the original, and where we should vary our word choice so as to make our translation more lively and readable. For the most part, we’ve tried to give our English readers a sense of what it is like to read the original text, which often means replicating its use (and sometimes overuse!) of repetition.

    • Comment on Essay 14 on November 11th, 2014

      Thanks for the link. And you’re right – we are providing here a translation of a translation (although we consult the original language to be able to note where Lessing has misinterpreted or edited the text, and we note that in our endnotes).

Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/hamburg/comments-by-commenter/