Cato (A Tragedy in Five Acts)
by Joseph Addison (1672 - 1719)
Rendered with this introduction by Richard
Lewis of Stoic Voice
I take great pleasure in presenting the following rendering of Joseph
Addison's play Cato . I first became aware of the play while reading the
writings of Jim Stockdale. In an essay on public virtue, he writes:
"George Washington was so taken with the character of Cato the younger
in Joseph Addison's 1713 play Cato that he made the Roman republican his
role model. He went to see Cato numerous times from early manhood into maturity
and even had it performed for his troops at Valley Forge despite a
congressional resolution that plays were inimical to republican virtue.
Washington included lines from the play in his private correspondence and even
in his farewell address." (Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter
Pilot, Hoover Press, 1995, p.75.)
Of course, this perked my interest and sent me out in search of Cato.
As fate would have it, I found a very worn 1848 edition of The Works of
Joseph Addison in three volumes at our local college in Helena and was
given permission to borrow the volume containing Cato for several months
to copy the text.
Joseph Addison's Cato premiered on April 14, 1713, and was an
immediate success. In fact, it went on to become one of the most popular
English plays of that period. In addition to being a dramatist and poet, Joseph
Addison was also a prominent essayist and was noted for his graceful writing
style. Samuel Johnson once wrote: "Whoever wishes to attain an English
style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his
days and nights to the study of Addison."
Cato the younger (95-46 B.C.) was a Great Roman Statesman and Stoic. He took
sides with Pompey in his unsuccessful civil war against Julius Caesar. After
Pompey was defeated at Pharsalus, Cato and Scipio moved their forces to
northern Africa. The play takes place in the city of Utica, located in the
kingdom of Numidia. Scipio has been defeated at Thapsus, and Caesar and his
legions are advancing towards Utica, where Cato and a small Roman senate stand
ready to defend the last vestige of the Roman Republic.