Proceeding from the observation that Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's famous Hamburgische
Dramaturgy) soon abandons the analysis of actual performances in favour of a discussion of character, the article explores Lessing's problematic relationship with the performing body, situating it in the context of an increasingly textual culture. It shows the implications of this move in terms of gender prescriptions before discussing Lessing's ‘disgust’ with a particular performance of his Emilia
Galotti. Reading this example with Lessing's treatise Laokoon and drawing on Julia Kristeva's theory of abjection, it argues that Lessing's struggle with the performers reveals a profound crisis in subject formation in the sense that the disturbing corporality of the performing body is always threatening sympathetic identification. The article concludes that the Dramaturgie itself constitutes an ‘abjection’ of performance. A postscript opens up the view onto the contemporary relevance and refiguration of Lessing's Laokoon in the Laokoon Festival in Hamburg.