Cato "Gods, Can A Roman Senate Long Debate Which Of The Two To Choose, Slavery Or Death!"

Joseph Addison

"Gods, Can A Roman Senate Long Debate Which Of The Two To Choose, Slavery Or Death!"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The position of Addison's play, Cato, is a peculiar one. Ironically, when Cato was staged in 1713, both major political factions in England liked the work. Both saw the person of the Duke of Marlborough represented in it: however, the Tories felt that Addison had associated the Duke with the play's ignoble Caesar, while the Whigs insisted that the noble character of Cato must have been intended as a portrait of Marlborough. Both factions, consequently, were strong in their praise of both the playwright, Addison, and the actors who took part in the production. In the prologue, written by Alexander Pope, Caesar is referred to as "ignobly vain," as well as "impotently great," whereas, by contrast, Cato is seen as "godlike." In the passage in Act II, with which we are concerned, we find the Senator Sempronius answering the statesman, Cato, who has asked whether or not they–themselves Romans–should take up arms against the power of the ruthless Caesar:


SEMPRONIUS
My voice is still for war.
Gods, can a Roman senate long debate
Which of the two to choose, slav'ry or death!
No, let us rise at once, gird on our swords,
And, at the head of our remaining troops,
Attack the foe, break through the thick array
Of his throng'd legions, and charge home upon him.