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Cato: A Tragedy, and Selected Essays Paperback – December 1, 2004
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Addendum: It should be noted that by and large the appeal of Cato and Demosthemes, three centuries prior, by this nation's founders was not only their non-imperialist, anti-tyrannical take, but their non-expansionary or non-interventionist expoundings which related not simply to defense of liberty but the protection of the public purse, or less theft of the peoples' property through taxes. Non-interventionism and open trade.
Writing a political play during a period of intense political rivalry in England, Joseph Addison avoided charges of partisanship by having the prologue written by a Tory poet, Alexander Poe, and the epilogue by a Whig poet, Samuel Garth. Although this tragedy was held in high esteem throughout the eighteenth century, today's audience may find Addison's effusive praise of Cato's political virtue tends to be rather one-dimensional, and thus not entirely convincing.
Cato remained popular for decades in England and even longer in the American colonies, becoming a literary inspiration for the American Revolution. George Washington had it performed for the Continental Army at Valley Forge. The famous quotes by Patrick Henry and Nathan Hale were apparently derived from Addison's play.
Addison's characterization of Cato lacks the psychological depth and complexity that is found in Shakespeare's tragedies, or even what we have come to expect in modern biographical films like A Man for All Seasons, Lawrence of Arabia, Patton, and Gandhi. To be fair to Addison, Cato was described by his contemporaries, including his political enemies, as having high moral standards and incorruptible virtue. In contrast, Addison portrays Cato's sons Portius and Marcus, his close friend Lucius, and his protégé Juba, the prince of Numidia, in more realistic fashion, all decidedly loyal to Cato, but subject to private doubts and other emotions.
Cato is considered by many as the best tragedy written in eighteenth century England. I give it four stars, in part for its historical significance.
Note: Individual editions of Cato may not be easy to find, but it is often included in collections of eighteen century English plays. The Everyman edition, titled The Beggar's Opera and Other Eighteenth Century plays (edited by David Lindsay), is a good source.