Addison’s Cato and enlightenment cosmopolitanism

Juba’s roman soul: Addison’s Cato and enlightenment cosmopolitanism

Rosenthal, Laura J

When Charles II reopened the English stage, he decreed that women would now play the female roles, thus ending the Renaissance tradition of using boy actors. Ostensibly based on the moral imperative to stop cross-dressing, this decision clearly also staked a major investment in the stage’s hetero-eroticism, part slap in the face to the Puritans, part compromise with the Puritans in retreat from earlier associations of the Stuart court with homoeroticism, and part personal taste of the monarch. Out of all available possibilities for the grand debut of the public heterosexuality that would characterize the theater for centuries, Othello was chosen (Van Lennep 1: 18). We might take this decision as an emblem for the erotic investments in racial and national difference in the eighteenth century as well as evidence of the ambivalent figuring of international relations as heterosexual coupling. Joseph Addison’s Cato (1713) similarly incorporates a transracial romance; the attraction between Juba and Marcia, however, generally has not been understood as central to the play. Many critics have read this romance as something “tacked on” to the main story of the play, which concerns Cato’s resistance to Caesar’s transformation of Rome from republic to empire.1 In some ways, the play supports this reading: Marcia refuses to approach her father about her love for Juba for fear of distracting him from his military and political concerns. I would like to suggest, however, that the sexual attractions in Cato play a crucial part in the drama’s meaning. Rather than providing a romantic and domestic interlude as intermittent relief from the important business of politics and empire, the promised marriage between Juba and Marcia in many ways defines a significant alternative to the conflict between Caesar and Cato. In short, Cato does not simply articulate the ideals of nationalism but places nationalism in tension with Enlightenment cosmopolitanism, the many paradoxes of which become visible in the drama’s unfolding.

Cato has stirred political controversy since its initial production in 1713, when both Whigs and Tories claimed it as the expression of their deepest beliefs.2 Specifically, the Whigs read Cato as the duke of Marlborough and the play as an argument for the duke’s continued participation in the War of the Spanish Succession. The Tories, on the other hand, were able to read the dictatorial Caesar as Marlborough (Loftis 57-60). But as Addison’s biographer, Peter Smithers, points out, Addison did not originally write this play to comment on the war, for he had drafted it at least ten years earlier (259); contemporaries found a meaning in this play that it initially could not have had. This presents neither a problem nor a novelty, for the most compelling drama tends to persist through precisely this kind of cultural intertextuality. Yet in the case of Cato, I think it has obscured some of the play’s complexity and richness. Thus, I wish to make both an aesthetic and a political point about Cato: first, in spite of some sites of reception, Addison’s play does not offer Cato himself as an unqualified ideal, or even as an ideal at all; and, second, reading Cato as less than utterly heroic suggests the promised marriage between Cato’s daughter Marcia and the African prince Juba as the drama’s hopeful alternative to Cato’s stubborn, suicidal despair.

Cato takes place in North Africa, where the eponymous Roman senator has aligned himself with the Numidian king in opposition to Caesar, who has begun the process of transforming a democratic Roman republic into a corrupt and overreaching Roman empire. The Numidian king has died in the battle against Caesar’s empire, and the remaining Numidians must decide whether to side with the powerful Caesar or the stoical Cato. Juba, the son of the Numidian king (also named Juba), loves Cato and his daughter Marcia, who returns Juba’s affection but fears distracting her father from his battle with the prospect of her marriage. Both of Cato’s sons, Porous and Marcus, love Lucia, the daughter of Roman senator Lucius, but resist becoming each other’s rivals. Meanwhile, the Numidian general Syphax and the Roman senator Sempronius conspire to betray Cato to Caesar and try to bring Juba over to their side. The love plots and the war plot converge several times: Sempronius also loves Marcia, and Syphax offers both Juba and Sempronius his help in ravishing her; Marcus flings himself recklessly into battle after failing to win Lucia’s love; Cato rewards Juba’s loyalty and honor with permission to marry Marcia. In the end, after contemplating Plato’s philosophy of the immortality of the soul, Cato kills himself as Caesar’s army approaches.

While traditional readings have concentrated on the party politics in which Cato became entangled, Julie Ellison and J. Douglas Canfield both recently have brought attention to the complexities of nation, empire, gender, and racial identity explored in this play. Canfield argues that Cato dramatizes Marcia’s gendered and Juba’s racialized inadequacies when compared to Cato’s virtue. Ellison moves even further from traditional readings by seeing not just Cato alone but the pairing of Cato with Juba as demonstrating republicanism’s intertwined discourses of stoicism and sensibility articulated as a bond between the heroic Roman and the passionate, exotic African. This dynamic had a particular force, she notes, in the North American colonies, and “the play entered deeply into the iconic self-dramatizations of George Washington, Patrick Henry, and Nathan Hale” (592, 593).3 Fredric M. Litto and Albert Furtwangler have also suggested ways in which colonial revolutionaries identified Cato’s struggle for liberty against empire as their own. There is thus no denying that Cato became a prototype for republican patriotic heroes, especially in North America. Nevertheless, this prototypical reading does not sufficiently capture the complexity of Addison’s play. Ellison reads George Washington’s desire, expressed in a letter, to play the Numidian prince Juba rather than the Roman Cato as an example of the erasure of racial particularity in the play’s reception. But, perhaps instead of erasure, Washington’s desire suggests a more complicated reading of the play, in which Juba emerges as something more than a racial inferior or an exotic other, especially considering the North American colonial context that greatly exaggerated the heroism of Cato’s resistance to empire (for obvious reasons). I want to suggest that Juba might be read as not just a crucial part of the republican patriotism that Cato comes to represent, as Ellison shows, but even as an alternative to his admired Roman paternal friend.

Nearly twenty years ago, J. M. Armistead argued that “Cato is not a model of virtuous behavior. He is rather an example of the dangers incumbent on the exaggeration of philosophical, at the expense of practical ethics” (272). Armistead adds that Addison himself called stoicism “the Pedantry of Virtue” (273).4 Other comments from Addison’s journalism further reveal his ambivalence toward, rather than complete admiration of, the historical Cato. In a Tatler number coauthored with Steele, Cato seats himself at the “Table of Fame” with the declaration that “the most Virtuous Man, wherever he was seated, was always at the Upper End of the Table. Socrates, who had a great Spirit of Raillery with his Wisdom, could not forbear smiling at Virtue which took so little Pains to make it self agreeable” (Tatler no. 81; 13-15 Oct. 1709; in Ross, ed., 118). Tatler number 130, though authored by Steele, also suggests the ambivalence with which Addison’s audiences may have read Cato. Here, Steele argues that “Caesar, Pompey, Cato, Cicero, and Brutus” were “rather a Misfortune than a Blessing to the Publick;’ for “Mankind was not able to provide for so many extraordinary Persons at once, or find out Posts suitable to their Ambition and Abilities. For this Reason, they were all as miserable in their Deaths, as they were famous in their Lives, and occasioned, not only the Ruin of each other, but also that of the Commonwealth” (Tatler no. 130; 4-7 Feb. 1710; in Ross, ed., 142). This Tatler supports Armistead’s suggestion that Cato does not entirely vilify Caesar (280) any more than it renders Cato’s blind resistance admirable. In fact, Addison insisted that we can “celebrate the Virtues of Cato, without distracting from those of Caesar” (Spectator no. 101; 26 June 1711; in Bond, ed., 1: 423). “Caesar’s character,” Addison argues, “is chiefly made up of Good-nature, as it show’d it self in all its form towards his Friends or his Enemies,” whereas “Cato’s Character, it is rather awful than amiable. Justice seems most agreeable to the Nature of God, and Mercy to that of Man” (Spectator no. 169; 13 Sept. 1711; in Bond, ed., 1: 166).5

Eighteenth-century reception of Cato in London further reveals this ambivalence. Praising the play with great enthusiasm, a writer for the Examiner finds Cato’s suicide troubling and wonders why Addison had Cato die as a Platonist when “Plato positively condemns this way of Dying” (qtd. in Bloom and Bloom 267). He decides that Addison chose to let Cato die with “the prospect of Immortality, however dark and doubtful, and divested him, in his last Moments, of that savage unrelenting Temper, which he appears in upon the sight of his Son’s Body.” Noting Cato’s own ambivalence about suicide, the writer concludes that Cato “fell indeed with his Country, but not for it; and by dying, effectually deserted her Interests” (qtd. in Bloom and Bloom 268). Charles Gildon, also praising the play, characterizes Cato’s death as “the Effect of an Heroic Frailty of Temper, that wou’d not think of surviving the Loss of his Country’s Liberty, or of meanly craving the Clemency of the Destroyer of the Roman Liberty.” He identifies the play’s moral as “the Fatal Effects of Faction” (qtd. in Bloom and Bloom 277). Finally, John Dennis identifies the same problem in Cato’s character, although for him it provides evidence of the play’s failure, rather than tragic complexity:

When I behold Cato expiring by his own Hand, `tis difficult to tell at which Indecency and which Inconsistency I am shock’d the most, at the Philosopher’s acting against the Light of Nature, or at the Stoick’s yielding to ill Fortune without the last Necessity, or at the unjust and unfortunate End of a Man of accomplish’d Virtue, or at the Lover of Liberty and of his Country deserting both by his Death. . . . Who then can extremely pity a Man, who rashly dy’d by his own Hands, when there was no Necessity for Dying, and who deserted the Cause of Liberty and of his Country, thro’ Stubborness and thro’ Ignorance, or sacrific’d them to his Stoical Pride? (qtd. in Bloom and Bloom 290-91)

Thus, not only did Addison elsewhere represent Cato as an extreme rather than an ideal, but critics who praised and disparaged Cato found him ambivalently portrayed. Cato himself ostensibly may occupy the center, but the Numidian prince frames the play. Juba delivers the prologue-essentially an elegy for Cato, written by Alexander Pope. Juba’s approved and impending marriage of Cato’s daughter Marcia closes the play, providing a counternarrative of hope against the play’s dominant narrative of Cato’s death. The prologue delivered by Juba sets the elegiac tone of the play’s treatment of Cato:

Ev’n when proud Caesar, `midst triumphal cars, The spoils of nations, and the pomp of wars, Ignobly vain and impotently great, Showed Rome her Cato’s figure drawn in state; As her dead father’s rev’rend image past, The pomp was darkened and the day o’ercast. (27-32)

The image of Rome’s “dead father” transforms a ceremony of triumph into a funeral procession. Addison’s audiences, of course, would have expected Cato’s death from their familiarity with Roman history. Nevertheless, the prologue, like the play itself, posits death as the most significant act of Cato’s life and places it in the midst of a celebration. But Juba, not Cato, directs the current audience’s emotions by narrating the feelings of the Romans before Cato’s funereal image. As such a controlling figure, Juba suggests the transformation of the British people before him into Romans precisely at the point of their mourning Cato: the author, he insists, “calls forth Roman drops from British eyes” (16). Cato will die, but Juba will remain to direct the community’s grief. Further, unlike Juba in the prologue, Cato in the play famously refuses to mourn, even for his own son; he then berates the gathered friends and family for their willingness to mourn one “private loss” when “`[t]is Rome requires our tears” (4.4.89-90). Juba watches in wonder; the play makes forcefully clear, however, that Juba will never imitate Cato in this particular respect.6 In the same scene, Juba laments Syphax’s perfidy as a reflection on Numidia, but Cato insists that no such relationship obtains. “`Tis generous thus to comfort the distressed,” Juba interprets. “`Tis just,” Cato disagrees, “to give applause where `tis deserved” (4.4.47-48). What Juba understands as sympathy, Cato insists on as abstract justice.

As the eighteenth-century critics themselves suggest, “despite the existence of viable military options, [Cato] commits suicide just when his people most require his leadership” (Armistead 273). The other characters fear Caesar but comfort themselves that “we all are safe / While Cato lives-his presence will protect us” (5.4.37-38). Porous assures his sister that “Our father will not cast away a life / So needful to us all, and to his country” (5.3.2-3). Cato, however, seems to be thinking not of his family, friends, or even country, but of himself as he stares at his sword and contemplates the immortality of his soul: “Now, Caesar, let thy troops beset our gates, / And bar each avenue, thy gathering fleets / O’erspread the sea, and stop up every port; / Cato shall open to himself a passage, / And mock thy hopes” (5.2.14-18). While the other characters blame Cato’s death on Caesar and raise his corpse as a symbol for “what dire effects from civil discord flow” (5.4.108), Cato himself becomes unsure of the virtue of his despair: “I’m sick to death-Oh, when shall I get loose / From this vain world, th’ abode of guilt and sorrow! / -And yet methinks a beam of light breaks in / On my departing soul. Alas! I fear I I’ve been too hasty” (5.4.92-95). Cato may glorify the beautiful, battle-scarred corpse of Marcus, but he nevertheless tries to ensure that both he and his remaining son meet different fates: instead of insisting that Porous also fight until the end, he suggests that his living son retreat to their country estate.

Reading Cato this way has important consequences for understanding the play’s political meaning: rather than seeing other characters as judged by their relative capacity to live up to Cato, we can now ask what enables the hopeful, transracial union of Juba and Marcia in contrast to the despairing suicide of Cato and the suicidal behavior of his son Marcus. Cato celebrates the Roman’s death, but it does so more as the passing of an era of “civil discord” that opens up the possibility for Juba and Marcia’s transracial and transnational romance, for they can gain permission to marry only at Cato’s deathbed. Armistead reads Juba as a “noble savage”; when compared to Cato’s monolithic determination (“pedantry of virtue”) on the one hand and Marcus’s barely restrained passion on the other, Juba actually emerges as the modern one in his combination of courage, sensibility, and cosmopolitan subjectivity. Similarly, Marcia is less a diminished than an alternative version of Cato, with “becoming graces” that “soften the rigor of her father’s virtues” (1.4.154-55). As suggested earlier, transracial romance already had become a major trope of the London stage: Othello enjoyed revivals, Thomas Southerne’s Oroonoko (1695) gained tremendous popularity, George Coleman’s Inkle and Yarico (1787) dramatized a Spectator anecdote, and Henry Bates comic opera The Black-moor Wash’d White (1776) nearly caused a riot (Gerzina 9). But while Oroonoko, Othello, and several other plays represent transracial romance as inherently problematic-although they differ in their sense of what the problem is-Cato has been easy to overlook in this context because it presents transracial romance as the solution, not the problem.’ Read this way, Cato offers an alternative, perhaps even self-consciously so, to the scandal of miscegenation in much other drama of the time. While Othello provides the dominant paradigm and legacy of the shock of miscegenation, recalled explicitly in both Oroonoko and The Blackamoor, Cato renders tragic inflexible adherences to, rather than violations of, national identity.

The popularity of both possibilities, however, suggests both that the London stage frequently worked out questions of national identity through heterosexual romance and, conversely, that identity crossing became central to the heterosexual erotic imagination of the time. This observation confirms and expands to the eighteenth-century stage Robert J. C. Young’s important point about the novelists who “write almost obsessively about the uncertain crossing and invasion of identities,” whether of class, gender, culture, or race, making this kind of crossing “the dominant motif of much English fiction” (3). These crossings, Young suggests, consistently take the form of heterosexual romance. Yet, he adds, this figure of heterosexuality has re-emerged in postcolonial criticism in the botanical/heterosexual metaphor of hybridity-a possibility eagerly embraced by postcolonial theory, but one that has in fact long been at the center of British identity. Young traces three historical models for the ways in which these crossings have been represented: first, the contemporary Manichean self/other model of Sartre, Fanon, and many versions of multiculturalism that encourage groups to reify their identifies as their most distinct point; second, an earlier nineteenthcentury scientific model of norm and deviance; and third, an Enlightenment model of universal equivalence. While Young admires Homi Bhabha, who significantly complicates the Manichean model, for his observation of hybridity as “a radical heterogeneity, discontinuity, the permanent revolution of forms” (25) and as the opportunity for opening up the spaces of ambivalence, he nevertheless offers reasons for re-examination. Hybridity “always reiterates and reinforces the dynamics of the same conflictual economy whose tensions and divisions it reenacts in its own antithetical structure” (27). In other words, even in the moment of its mixing, the concept of hybridity suggests two distinct and, to some extent, incompatible categories to be mixed; in this sense, it falls along a continuum with, rather than standing as the opposite from, miscegenation. The question, Young argues, “is whether the old essentializing categories of cultural identity, or of race, were really so essentialized, or have been retrospectively constructed as more fixed than they were” (27). I think this is a key question to ask of Cato, and the alternative of Cato’s nonscandalous marriage between Marcia and Juba demonstrates the accuracy of Young’s latter postulate. Clearly, conceptions of difference caused profound divisions and generated violence, as Othello and its persistent popularity suggest. Yet the scandal of miscegenation in the past has tended to overshadow the nonscandalous possibilities that existed as well. Cato explores the extent to which national origin can and/or should be transcended in an historical context that had not yet established the contemporary biological, and thus impermeable, conception of race (Hannaford 274). The postcolonial notion of hybridity undermines this impermeability by mixing in action-rendered most dramatic in heterosexual union with its potential consequences. Yet the status of these unions as crisis-as in Othello-reifies group distinction even as it threatens the demise of that group distinction; that is, these mixed marriages would ultimately blur the difference between black and white.

While both Othello and Oroonoko can be understood, though in significantly different ways, as speaking to Young’s first two models of Manichean difference complicated by the heterosexual-botanical metaphor of hybridity overlaying a Victorian model of norm and deviance, Cato’s transracial romance plot actually articulates his third category of Enlightenment cosmopolitanism, advocated in similar ways by Julia Kristeva. For both Young and Kristeva, cosmopolitanism, though fraught with dangers and contradictions that should not be ignored, provides an alternative to racial and/or national identities whose boundaries can never entirely be crossed. For Montesquieu, Kristeva observes, the “nation’s burden” must be “transposed in order to be absorbed at the heart of a borderless political philosophy dominated by the concern for politics understood as the maximal integration of mankind in a moderate, attainable ideality” (129). Montesquieu articulated this ideal as follows:

If I knew something useful to myself and detrimental to my family, I would reject it from my mind. If I knew something useful to my family but not to my homeland, I would try to forget it. If I knew something useful to my homeland and detrimental to Mankind, I would consider it a crime. (qtd. in Kristeva 130)

Kristeva quickly points out that “mankind, thus united by the ethic will of the political thinker becomes nevertheless historically specified as an international society made possible by the development of trade, dominated by Europe, and dependent on a moderate regulation of the flow of goods and currency”; Montesquieu notes, she points out, that “there is not a single nation whose gold and silver capital does not increase every year, although more promptly and more abundantly with some than with others” (Kristeva 130). Nevertheless, Montesquieu also warns “against distinguishing the `rights of man’ from the `rights of the citizen”‘; further, his political thought “goes hand in glove . . . with setting up a safety network that should prevent the brutal integration of difference . . . into a totalizing, univocal set that would eliminate any possibility of freedom” (Kristeva 132). Ultimately for Kristeva, however, only a recognition of internal self-division can permit the cosmopolitan recognition of the other: “The foreigner is within me, hence we are all foreigners. If I am a foreigner, there are no foreigners” (192). Unlike Cato in his uncompromising nationalism, Juba becomes a stranger to himself.

This larger conflict between Enlightenment cosmopolitanism and nationalism, and not simply the particular conflict between Whigs and Tories, constitutes part of the enduring political fascination with Cato. As Cato’s dying words suggest, the question of exactly who is a Roman provides the central question of identity for the play:

Juba loves thee, Marcia. A senator of Rome, while Rome survived, Would not have matched his daughter with a king, But Caesar’s arms have thrown down all distinction. Whoe’er is brave and virtuous, is a Roman. (5.4.87-91)

To be Roman in this play becomes both a national identity and an ethical position capable of transcending all other identity; at the same time, to be a Roman (in the second sense) demands the renegotiation of all other identity.8

In this respect, Cato articulates the persisting paradoxes of Enlightenment cosmopolitanism itself. On the one hand, to be a Roman, Juba must define himself as in some ways not an African at all. When the African Syphax, in an attempt to manipulate Juba into betraying Cato to Caesar, demands: “where’s the worth that sets this people up / Above your own Numidia’s tawny sons! / Do they with tougher sinews bend the bow?” (1.4.18-20), Juba argues that

These all are virtues of a meaner rank, Perfections that are placed in bones and nerves. A Roman soul is bent on higher views; To civilize the rude, unpolished world, And lay it under the restraint of laws; To make man mild and sociable to man; To cultivate the wild, licentious savage With wisdom, discipline, and lib’ral arts. (1.4.28-35)

Numidians have the choice of joining Caesar or Cato but do not seem to have the option of remaining Numidians. Cosmopolitanism demands in this case the renunciation and degradation of traditional African identity or, at the very least, suggests a developmental hierarchy between the two. Thus, Juba strives to become Roman, but Cato does not strive to become African. If cosmopolitanism emerges as an ideal, it nevertheless stands as an ideal defined by Roman-ness, however benevolent. Here, one can easily imagine Addison’s audiences assuming a parallel between the Roman republic/empire and the British republic/empire, each spreading its manners for the presumed benefit of the entire globe. Addison had articulated a similar vision in his famous Spectator 69, on the Royal Exchange, in which pleasure and profit mystify the violence of expansion.9 Here, merchants “knit Mankind together in a mutual Intercourse of good Offices, distribute the Gifts of Nature, find Work for the Poor, add Wealth to the Rich, and Magnificence to the Great” (19 May 1711; in Bond, ed., 1: 296).

On the other hand, while the Spectator essay can indeed be easily read as trade’s cosmopolitan mystification of colonialism, slavery, and other forms of exchange in which two nations did not meet on equal and/or peaceful terms, Cato, rather than being a mystification of violence, is actually about violence. Taking place on the periphery rather than in the cosmopolitan center, Cato represents imperialism as tragedy. Now, one might argue that this is simply another form of mystification-that Caesar presents the aggressive empire that British people define themselves against and Cato represents what Mary Louise Pratt has called the “anti-conquest” narrative, in which domination disguises itself as benevolence. While I think this is partly right, there are nevertheless ways in which Cato complicates such a possibility through its exploration of identity.

Cato destabilizes Roman-ness-sometimes defined as a moral identity and other times defined as a geographical one. So, while Cato offers many quotable lines supporting nationalist loyalty, taken as a whole the play offers no stable understanding of what it means to be Roman or African. For example, upon learning of Syphax’s treachery, Juba laments,

JUBA: Hast thou not heard Of my false countrymen? CATO: Alas! Young prince, Falsehood and fraud shoot up in every soil, The product of all climes-Rome has its Caesars. (44.40-461

George Sewell reinforces this divorce between nation and character in his response to Cato: “the Seeds of Genius and Nature are the same in all Persons and Places; and want only proper Objects, and good Direction, to cultivate and exalt them into virtuous Principles, and the Arts of Civiliz’d Life” (13). In the passage just reproduced, Juba identifies himself and his shame at his Numidian ancestry: the treachery of one Numidian suggests the moral inadequacy of all Numidians. Cato, on the other hand, insists on Juba’s Roman soul: here Romanness itself becomes an identity with entirely permeable boundaries defined only by personal qualities and having, it seems, nothing to do with national identity. As Cato insists in the last speech of his life, “Whoe’er is brave and virtuous, is a Roman” (5.4.91). Cato’s next answer, however, continues to comfort Juba but depends on a different sense of Rome. Here, Rome becomes a specific nation, although one just as likely to breed a traitor as Africa. Thus, Cato draws an analogy: Syphax is to Juba as Caesar is to Cato. So, on the one hand, this slippage allows Rome to retain its superiority because Rome, and not Africa, gets to have both a particular and universal meaning. If Juba becomes a Roman through his virtue, why doesn’t Caesar stop being a Roman through his vice? In this sense, cosmopolitanism continues to mask domination by allowing one nation to define the terms of value.

Yet Cato cannot sustain this hierarchy and may even undermine it. A parallel to Juba’s ambivalent identification with Numidia might be the ambivalence of Cato’s son Portius about his homeland: when Cato suggests that Porous return to the “humble virtues and . . , rural life” of their “frugal ancestors,” Portius exclaims: “I hope my father does not recommend / A life to Portius that he scorns himself’ (4.4.138, 4.4.137, 4.4.144-45). Neither Porous nor Juba, Roman nor African, can return to a simple geographical homeland identification after exposure to international conflict: both young men have been irreversibly changed by contact. Even more powerfully, however, in some less obvious ways, Cato undermines the mystification of “Rome” by recognizing the disparity between Roman ideals and Rome itself. When Syphax comes to understand Juba’s attachment to Cato as owing partly to his love for Cato’s daughter, he tries to tempt Juba into the plot against Cato by proposing to use the Numidian army to have her captured. Juba, of course, recoils: “Wouldst thou degrade thy prince into a ruffian?” (2.5.43). Syphax responds:

The boasted ancestors of these great men, Whose virtues you admire, were all such ruffians. This dread of nations, this almighty Rome, That comprehends in her wide empire’s bounds All under heaven, was founded on a rape. Your Scipios, Caesars, Pompeys, and your Catos, (These gods on earth) are all the spurious brood Of violated maids, of ravished Sabines. (2.5.42-49)

Juba doesn’t know quite how to respond to this accusation, except by becoming infuriated and accusing Syphax of treachery, a possibility from which Syphax manages to distract him temporarily. But he has no argument to refute Syphax’s radical demystification of Rome except to fall back on national stereotypes of the very sort that he strives to transcend: “I fear that hoary head of thine / Abounds too much in our Numidian wiles” (2.5.50-51). True, a known traitor reminds Juba of Rome’s origins in rape as part of a plot to win him over to another side of the battle. Nevertheless, Juba can neither deny nor refute Syphax’s eloquent demystification.10

Syphax’s demystification of Rome as founded on rape resonates powerfully throughout the play, since rape in particular, as well as the control of erotic desire in general, becomes Cato’s emblem for the difference between civilized and uncivilized men. Not only does Juba express honor at the thought of raping Marcia, but he also longs for her from afar, subordinating his passion in the face of its wartime complications. Porous, in fact, holds up Juba as a humbling example to his brother Marcus, who has trouble maintaining the same priorities. This speech ethnocentrically presumes “the fierceness of [Juba’s] native temper” (1.1. 81 ), but at the same time indicates that Juba’s acclimatization to civilization has been superior to Marcus’s. Initially, Porous suggests the difference between Roman and African masculinity as the latter’s lesser tendency to repress desire. That Syphax later suggests rape as the characteristic African solution, as Ellison points out (578), further advances this stereotype lurking behind many miscegenation plots in eighteenth-century literature. Yet throughout the play it is the Roman Marcus, not the African Juba, who is held under the greatest suspicion of being overly passionate.11 Upon hearing of Marcus’s death, Cato demands to know whether Marcus defended Rome to the end or crumbled in cowardice; here, Cato simultaneously reminds us of his own high standards of honor and advances his suspicion that Marcus did indeed crumble. Further, as if to play on and scrutinize the audience’s own stereotypes of African masculinity, the only attempted rape in this play is the Roman Sempronius’s plot to take Marcia while disguised as Juba. Sempronius gloats over his impending triumph, seeking Marcia but thinking of Juba:

How will the young Numidian rave, to see His mistress lost! If aught could glad my soul, Beyond th’enjoyment of so bright a prize, `Twould be to torture that young gay barbarian. (4.2.5-8)

Yet Juba catches and defeats Sempronius, turning the accusation of barbarism back on the Roman: “beware thy own [heart], proud, barb’rous man” (4.2.19). Whereas Juba had resisted Syphax’s offer of military assistance to rape Marcia, Sempronius happily takes it up. In this scene, beneath the apparent Numidian rapist actually lurks a Roman, just as (in Syphax’s earlier reminder) beneath the apparently civilized Rome lurks a nation founded on rape-founded on the basis of, rather than the repression of, sexual aggression. Rome’s violent and profoundly uncivilized origin turns out to differ little from the supposed “fierceness” of African “native temper:’ In the play’s mythology, both Romans and Africans endure the burden of their barbaric pasts. Some characters, however, tragically adhere to a nation, while others develop the internally divided subjectivity of cosmopolitanism. As Ellison points out, the averted rape scene offers an eerie dramatization of Juba’s own self-division when the real Juba battles his own mirror image (584). At the same time, Juba’s battle with “himself’ is also the civilized man’s conquest of the barbarian rapist-though not represented by a Roman’s defeat of an African but a colonized/cosmopolitanized African’s defeat of a Roman mimicking what he understands as a barbaric African.

In this context, then, the play parallels the two men whom Juba loves and who will be forced from him by imperial violence. Syphax’s advocacy of African decolonization has a profound effect on Juba and inevitably resonates with the audience as well. In the wake of Roman imperialism, Syphax quite powerfully notes the destruction of African independence in general and Juba’s father in particular. This is clearly not the dominant political perspective of the play, but it is one that melts Juba’s soul (1.4.115). Cato’s love for Rome “melts” Juba’s “soul” as well, but only on his deathbed does Cato show signs of internal self-division: he explicitly questions the wisdom and morality of his suicide and thus finally, in the moment of his own first self-division, consents to his daughter’s marriage to an African prince. Early in the play, Juba had made the supremely reasonable suggestion that Cato retreat from Utica to Numidia, where Juba could both protect his homeland and gather sufficient support for Cato as well. But Cato had responded with inflexible contempt:

And canst thou think Cato will fly before the sword of Caesar? Reduced, like Hannibal, to seek relief From court to court, and wander up and down, A vagabond in Afric!” (2.4.40-44)

Juba, on the other hand, inhabits throughout the cosmopolitan position of a “stranger to himself’; as Ellison points out, Juba consistently articulates the divided position of the colonized subject. This divided subjectivity becomes apparent, although to a lesser degree, in Marcia, who agonizes over subordinating her secret passion for Juba to the politics of her father. Juba and Marcia’s transracial and transnational marriage is the play’s solution rather than its problem because, as strangers to themselves, they might not be strangers to one another. Unlike Desdemona, Marcia, with respect to her desire for Juba, expresses not a hint of exoticism. In this context, Othello might be read as a tragedy of failed cosmopolitanism, in which socially defined differences both originate and persist in the face of desire. Cato, on the other hand, points toward an Enlightenment cosmopolitanism that mourns the inflexibility of Cato and Syphax. A self-consciously divided subjectivity becomes the most productive strategy for survival in an emergent global system, the libidinal pleasures and violent costs of which Addison dramatizes.

Florida State University

‘ This was argued most famously by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. On her critical remarks, see Halsband; for a discussion of their correspondence over Cato, see Smithers, chapter 7. Laura Brown contests Montagu’s judgment (154-57).

= For Cato’s reception, see Fallen

‘ Cato was performed at Valley Forge after the winter of 1777-78, and George Washington mentioned in a letter wanting to act the part of Juba; Patrick Henry was quoting Cato when he announced “give me liberty or give me death”; Nathan Hale quoted from Cato when he regretted having but one life to give for his country (Ellison 593-94).

In this Spectator, Addison goes on gently to mock the stoicism of Cato in particular: `:Accordingly Cato, in the Character Tully has left of him, carried Matters so far, that he would not allow any one but a Virtuous Man to be handsom, ” (no. 243, 8 December 1711; in Bond, ed., 2: 444).

5 Addison also, of course, had some high praise for Cato as well. See, for example, Spectator no. 557, 21 June 1714; in Bond, ed., 4: 502-03.

For a much more thorough analysis of the role of sensibility in this play, see Ellison.

In opening her rich and informative study, Black London, for example, Gretchen Gerzina notes all these plays except Cato.

On this point, see also Ellison, 525-77.

On the mystified violence of expansion in the eighteenth century, see, for example, Pratt.

By quoting passages out of order, Ellison gives the impression that Juba “responds with a critique of Africa in which he volunteers to civilize or to `break’ his countrymen” (587). In fact, Juba makes this argument in a different context and has no meaningful response to Syphax’s demystification of Rome.

” Cf. Ellison’s position that “the younger African male is marked by an extreme emotionality that the Roman mentor paradoxically counteracts and rewards” (586). Yet Cato’s sons admire Juba for his self-control; like Marcia, he represents the compromise between Marcus’s volatility and Cato’s stoicism. As Armistead observes, “Marcus’ response to the sleeplessness, lack of appetite, physical

weakness, and melancholia generated by unpitied love is to seek the relief of death in furious defense of a cause” (276). Juba displays none of these symptoms.


Addison, Joseph. Cato. British Dramatists from Dryden to Sheridan. Ed. George H. Nettleton and Arthur E. Case. Revised by George Wincester Stone, Ir. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1969. 473-499.

Addison, Joseph, and Richard Steele. Selections from the “Taller” and the “Spectator.” Ed. Angus Ross. New York: Penguin, 1982.

. The Spectator. Ed. Donald F Bond. 5 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1965.

Armistead, J. M. “Drama of Renewal: Cato and Moral Empiricism:’ Papers on Language & Literature 17 (1981): 271-83.

Bloom, Edward A., and Lillian D. Bloom, eds. Addison and Steele: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980.

Brown, Laura. English Dramatic Form, 1660-1760. New Haven: Yale UP, 1981.

Canfield, J. Douglas. “Shifting Tropes of Ideology in English Serious Drama, Late Stuart to Early Georgian:’ Cultural Readings of Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Theater. Ed. J. Douglas Canfield and Deborah C. Payne. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1995. 195-227.

Ellison, Julie. “Cato’s Tears:’ ELH 63 (1996): 571-601.

Faller, Lincoln B. The Popularity of Addison’s “Cato” and Lillo’s “The London Merchant,” 17001776. New York: Garland, 1988.

Furtwangler, Albert. “Cato at Valley Forge:’ Modern Language Quarterly 41 (1980): 38-53. Gerzina, Gretchen. Black London: Life Before Emancipation. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1995. Halsband, Robert. “Addison’s Cato and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.” PMLA 65 (1950): 1122-29. Hannaford, Ivan. Race: The History of an Ideal in the West. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1996. Kelsall, M. M. “The Meaning of Addison’s Cato.” The Review of English Studies 66 (1966): 149-62. Kristeva, Julia. Strangers to Ourselves. Traps. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia UP, 1991. Litto, Fredric M. “Addison’s Cato in the Colonies.” The William and Mary Quarterly 23 (1966): 43149.

Loftis, John. The Politics of Drama in Augustan England. Oxford: Clarendon, 1963,

The London Stage, 7660-1800. Ed. William Van Lennep. 5 vols. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1965.

Malek, James S. “The Fifth Act of Addison’s Cato.” Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 73 (1973): 51519.

Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London and New York: Routledge, 1992.

Sewell, George(?). “Observations upon Cato, A Tragedy by Mr. Addison. In a Letter to 10 10 10:’ London,1713.

Smithers, Peter. The Life of Joseph Addison. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1968.

Young, Robert J. C. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Laura J. Rosenthal

Florida State University

LAURA J. ROSENTHAL is Associate Professor of English at Florida State University, author of Playwrights and Plagiarists in Early Modern England: Gender, Authorship, Literary Property, and co-editor of Monstrous Dreams of Reason: Body Self and Other in the Enlightenment (forthcoming). She is currently working on travel and “infamous commerce” in the eighteenth century.

Copyright Studies in the Literary Imagination Fall 1999

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved