Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster „Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration“

Same/Sex: Marriage and Tolerance in "Nathan der Weise"

23. Juli 2009

Ph.D. Michael Taylor

Nathan der Weise (1779) articulates a famous plea for tolerance. But the plot of the play in fact turns upon the need to avoid an incestuous marriage between brother and sister. I will argue that this avoidance directly underwrites the play’s politics of tolerance. It functions to create a fiction of shared human kinship and similarity that relies, most fundamentally, upon the need to neuter the passion of sexual difference. The transformation of one burning passing, sexual desire, serves to eliminate another, religious hatred and prejudice, and the elimination of sexual difference erases the contingent burdens of birth and inherited identities. While avoiding a marriage between siblings raised as Christian and Jew obviates the practical problems that historically linked interfaith marriage with practices and ideals of tolerance, asserting the incest taboo as the ultimate reason for the impossibility of this marriage reveals ambiguous limits to the play’s construction of humanity and the passions it can engender. Same/Sex: the difficulties that arise in Lessing’s play when tolerance originates in loving the same.

23. Juli 2009, 16 Uhr s.t.
Kulturwissenschaftliches Kolleg Konstanz
Otto-Adam-Str. 5
78467 Konstanz


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