Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (22 January 1729 – 15 February 1781) was a German writer, philosopher, dramatist, publicist, and art critic, 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 theatre historians to be the first dramaturg.
Lessing was born in Kamenz, a little town in Saxony. His father was a clergyman and the author of theological writings. After visiting Latin School in Kamenz (from 1737 onwards) and the Fürstenschule St. Afra in Meissen (from 1741 onwards) he studied theology and medicine in Leipzig (1746–1748).
From 1748 to 1760 he lived in Leipzig and Berlin and worked as reviewer and editor for, amongst others, the Vossische Zeitung. In 1752 he took his Master's degree in Wittenberg. From 1760 to 1765 he worked in Breslau (now Wrocław) as secretary to General Tauentzien. In 1765 he returned to Berlin, only to leave again in 1767 to work for three years as a dramaturg and adviser at the German National Theatre in Hamburg. There he met Eva König, his future wife.
In 1770 Lessing became a librarian at the Herzog-August-Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel. His tenure there was interrupted by many travels. For example, in 1775 he journeyed to Italy accompanied by Prince Leopold.
In 1771 Lessing was initiated into Freemasonry in the lodge "Zu den drei Rosen" in Hamburg.
In 1776 he married Eva König, who was then a widow, in Jork (near Hamburg). She died in 1778 after giving birth to a short-lived son. On 15 February 1781, Lessing, at 52, died during a visit to the wine dealer Angott in Braunschweig.
Lessing was also famous for his friendship with Jewish-German philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. In his celebrated biography of Mendelssohn's famous grandson, Felix, Larry Todd describes their friendship as one of the most "illuminating metaphors [for] the clarion call of the Enlightenment for religious tolerance".
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