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Cato, a Tragedy

Joseph Addison

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Cato, a Tragedy is a play by Joseph Addison, first performed in 1713. It is based on the last days of Cato the Younger, who was a stoic who became an icon of republicanism due to his resistance to the tyranny of Julius Caesar. The play deals with themes such as liberty for the individual and government tyranny, logic and emotion, as well as Cato's struggle, in the face of death, to hold true to his beliefs.

This book has 75 pages in the PDF version, and was originally performed in 1713. This edition was first published in 1823.

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Excerpt from 'Cato, a Tragedy'

A Hall.

Enter Portius and Marcus.

Por. The dawn is overcast, the morning low'rs,

And heavily in clouds brings on the day,

The great, the important day, big with the fate

Of Cato and of Rome——Our father's death

Would fill up all the guilt of civil war,

And close the scene of blood. Already Cæsar

Has ravaged more than half the globe, and sees

Mankind grown thin by his destructive sword:

Should he go farther, numbers would be wanting

To form new battles, and support his crimes.

Ye gods, what havoc does ambition make

Among your works!

Marc. Thy steady temper, Portius,

Can look on guilt, rebellion, fraud, and Cæsar,

In the calm lights of mild philosophy;

I'm tortured e'en to madness, when I think

On the proud victor—ev'ry time he's named,

Pharsalia rises to my view!—I see

Th' insulting tyrant, prancing o'er the field,

Strew'd with Rome's citizens, and drench'd in slaughter;

His horse's hoofs wet with patrician blood!

Oh, Portius! is there not some chosen curse,

Some hidden thunder in the stores of Heav'n,

Red with uncommon wrath, to blast the man

Who owes his greatness to his country's ruin?

Por. Believe me, Marcus, 'tis an impious greatness,

And mix'd with too much horror to be envied:

How does the lustre of our father's actions,

Through the dark cloud of ills that cover him,

Break out, and burn with more triumphant brightness!

His sufferings shine, and spread a glory round him;

Greatly unfortunate, he fights the cause

Of honour, virtue, liberty, and Rome.

His sword ne'er fell, but on the guilty head;

Oppression, tyranny, and pow'r usurp'd,

Draw all the vengeance of his arm upon them.

Marc. Who knows not this? but what can Cato do

Against a world, a base, degenerate world,

That courts the yoke, and bows the neck to Cæsar?

Pent up in Utica, he vainly forms

A poor epitome of Roman greatness,

And, cover'd with Numidian guards, directs

A feeble army, and an empty senate,

Remnants of mighty battles fought in vain.

By Heav'n, such virtue, join'd with such success,

Distracts my very soul! Our father's fortune

Would almost tempt us to renounce his precepts.

Por. Remember what our father oft has told us:

The ways of Heav'n are dark and intricate,

Puzzled in mazes, and perplex'd with errors;

Our understanding traces them in vain,

Lost and bewilder'd in the fruitless search;

Nor sees with how much art the windings run,

Nor where the regular confusion ends.

Marc. These are suggestions of a mind at ease:—

Oh, Portius! didst thou taste but half the griefs

That wring my soul, thou couldst not talk thus coldly.

Passion unpitied, and successless love,

Plant daggers in my heart, and aggravate

My other griefs.—Were but my Lucia kind——

Por. Thou see'st not that thy brother is thy rival;

But I must hide it, for I know thy temper. [Aside.

Behold young Juba, the Numidian prince,

With how much care he forms himself to glory,

And breaks the fierceness of his native temper,

To copy out our father's bright example.

He loves our sister Marcia, greatly loves her;

His eyes, his looks, his actions, all betray it;

But still the smother'd fondness burns within him;

When most it swells, and labours for a vent,

The sense of honour, and desire of fame,

Drive the big passion back into his heart.

What! shall an African, shall Juba's heir,

Reproach great Cato's son, and show the world

A virtue wanting in a Roman soul?

Marc. Portius, no more! your words leave stings behind them.

Whene'er did Juba, or did Portius, show

A virtue that has cast me at a distance,

And thrown me out in the pursuits of honour?

Por. Marcus, I know thy gen'rous temper well;

Fling but the appearance of dishonour on it,

It straight takes fire, and mounts into a blaze.

Marc. A brother's suff'rings claim a brother's pity.

Por. Heav'n knows, I pity thee——Behold my eyes,

Ev'n whilst I speak—Do they not swim in tears?

Were but my heart as naked to thy view,

Marcus would see it bleed in his behalf.

Production notes: This edition of Cato, a Tragedy was published by Global Grey ebooks on the 16th January 2021. The artwork used for the cover is 'Death of Cato' by Gioacchino Assereto.

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