Article Title

Suicide and Seneca in Two Eighteenth Century Tragedies


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

There is much about George Lillo's Fatal Curiosity that demands conscious comparison with the more famous tragedy of Cato by Lillo's contemporary, Joseph Addison. Each play presents in its principal character an advocate of Stoic philosophy and each concludes with the main character's suicide. Both works are similar in their observance of the classical unities and both attach great importance to the inculcation of a moral theme. Moreover, Lillo alludes to Addison's tragedy in the opening scene of his play, and William H. McBurney suggests that the important "Discovered, reading" scene in Fatal Curiosity was written to mirror a similarly significant scene in Cato.1 Yet what connects the two plays most firmly is not any structural similarity but rather their philosophical differences: taken together, Cato and Fatal Curiosity constitute a debate on the ethical merits of Stoicism in particular and secular philosophy in general. Citing Stoicism in particular and secular philosophy in general. Citing Seneca as his source, Addison makes his tragedy consist of "a virtuous man struggling with misfortune," and chooses as his virtuous man that paragon of Stoicism, Cato. The catastrophe of the play, and the triumph of its philosophy, is the hero's suicide. Lillo methodically opposes a Christian, essentially Calvinist theology to the secular philosophy of Addison's play. Using an original Puritan form of tragedy he developed in The London Merchant, Lillo inverts Cato's triumph to reveal in the suicide what he sees as the moral bankruptcy of an ethical system operating without God.

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