Acting, Error, and the Art of Lying in Lessing’s Work
This chapter argues that Lessing’s bourgeois tragedies demonstrate a surprising obsession with the subtleties of sin, transgression, crime, and error. Building on the implicit dialogue between Condillac’s notion of fallible senses in the Treatise on Sensations (1754), the close reading of Miß Sara Sampson (1755) suggests that Lessing continues to work with the Aristotelian tradition, but begins to revolutionize German dramatic and theatrical practice through his reassessment of error’s moral dimension, gestural semiotics, and link to human sensory experience. The chapter contrasts the representation of error in Lessing’s early comedies with the subtle performances of deception, dissimulation, and misinterpretation that in Miß Sara Sampson challenge the semiotic effectiveness of the acting body, restaging the plot-driving hamartia as misinterpretation. The chapter concludes with a new consideration of metaphorical bodies in Lessing’s work as lying signifiers.