Although both ways. Because he is a man,

Although the play is mostly a political commentary it is nonetheless informative on the questions of sex and identity in the 18th century. This period saw women as inferior to men, as a weaker sex, and this is noticeable in many aspects of the play as well as in this passage. This discrimination towards women is at the heart of the play itself, as is revealed in a letter from Lessing to his brother in which he writes that Emilia is not to be considered the main character of the play. The author gives this privilege to a man, Odoardo. To Lessing, Emilia was only as important as her link to her father, to whom she stood in the subordinate relationship of a prized possession. Her death is only significant because of the effect it has on her father, who had to make a sacrifice and lose his “possession” in order to preserve his honour. It was a feature of 18th century thinking to consider certain characteristics to be either male or female and these are attributed to Orsina and Odoardo in the passage under examination. Ironically, it is Orsina who underlines this misogyny while talking to Odoardo. She explains that “Gift ist nur für uns Weiber, nicht für Männer” (l.31), implying that the use of poison is a dishonorable and cowardly way of killing that is only for the weak, and therefore for women. Furthermore, at line 37, she says “Ich, ich bin nur ein Weib”, insisting on the idea that being a woman was something inferior that necessarily entailed incapacity and helplessness. The “nur” is meant as a direct comparison to the previous sentence: “wenn Sie ein Mann sind” (l.37).  However, these stereotypes of behavior cut both ways. Because he is a man, Edoardo is expected to act bravely and violently by taking a knife to the person who threatened his daughter’s dignity. By saying “wenn Sie ein Mann sind” Orsina questions Odoardo’s masculinity and insinuates that not killing the Prince would be a womanly act. Does Orsina only use these stereotypes in order to further motivate Odoardo into killing Hettore? Does she, in fact, not subscribe to such ideas herself? If such be the case, the behavioural stereotypes played upon remain indicative of the period.                                                                                                                                                                                                In contrast to the negative view of women that has just been exposed, the character of Orsina, who plays a minor role in the drama and occurs in only half of the play, is of great importance. She is the only person in the drama who successfully grasps the situation and she presents it with remarkable lucidity and simplicity to Odoardo: “Des Morgens sprach der Prinz Ihre Tochter in der Messe, des Nachmittags hat er sie auf seinem Lust” (l.13-14).  She is an independent, highly educated and self-confident woman who takes revenge into her own hands and – for a time – successfully manages to manipulate a man into doing her bidding. During the 1700s there was a great divide between the nobility and the bourgeoisie, with one oppressing the other. Lessing shows this to the audience through Orsina’s attempt to use Odoardo. That said, the scene is not only representative of the elite’s corrupting influence over the lower-classes. It can also be interpreted as a woman’s victory over a man. Furthermore, the Countess pities Emilia, not because of her status but because of her situation, and therefore symbolizes more than just the persecuting rule of the few over the many. She is a person of nobility who empathizes with a woman of the bourgeoisie and in this she transcends the barriers of social class. A very important aspect of the play and this passage that is not to be left unconsidered is the currency of Enlightenment ideas. Lessing was a major figure of the Aufklärung in Germany and this is noticeable in Emilia Galotti. The play is above all a commentary and presents a criticism of political conditions in the 18th century. The narrative of the play is very similar to that of two Roman myths, Lucrecia and Verginia, both of which end with the fall of a tyrant and the instauration (and re-instauration) of the Republic. This is, of course, no coincidence; and although Lessing uses the myths and the Italian setting to hide his criticism and avoid censorship, the choice is, in itself, a hidden message revelatory of the author’s desire for political change. He believed in the need for a new concept of bourgeois morality and attempted to convince people of this through his play. The spectator is left feeling outraged with a sense of injustice at the death of Emilia, even though it was in accordance with the values of the time. Lessing does this deliberately. He is demonstrating to his audience that these values are irrational and that they should be abandoned. Odoardo immediately regrets his act because he recognises it is intrinsically wrong. He is pushed into action because of social convention, but it is a catastrophic mistake. Lessing provides educated society with a context in which they can appreciate how this way of thinking is flawed and realise the need for a new bourgeois morality that values reason, follows logic, and discards ridiculous codes of conduct.                                                       In his play Emilia Galotti, Lessing offers both an insight into the questions of sex and identity, as well as a commentary on the social conditions and moral views of his time.  By telling a story similar to that of Verginia, he inveighs not only against princes choosing bourgeois maidens as mistresses, but also against all manner of abuse suffered by the majority of the German population under noble rule. The passage under examination is significant in at least two respects. First, it illustrates (and attacks) certain gender stereotypes. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we are presented with a contradicting and empowering female character. Emilia’s father, Odoardo, is (like many others) a victim of a society in desperate need of change. It is only under the Weimar Republic and then later, in the form of the Federal Republic of Germany, that the world of reason, free-speech and equality envisioned by Lessing and his contemporaries took shape. Its roots however, can without a doubt be traced – in part – back to here