In act 2.1 of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Portia uses her marriage vows to manipulate Brutus into telling her about the assassination plot. What does this interaction reveal about Brutus’ character?
William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Julius Caesar tells the story of Caesar’s assassination at the hands of a rebellious group of men who fear that he is becoming too powerful and a threat to their liberty and influence. The main character, Brutus, struggles over his part in the conspiracy, unsure of how to proceed. He tries to hide this from his wife, Portia, but she can tell that he is involved in some sort of dangerous activity. She can tell by his actions, since he has not been sleeping and appears to be distracted. When he tries to tell her that he is not well, she knows him too well to believe this, telling him that if he were sick he would seek a remedy.
When Brutus continues to try to talk his way out of revealing his plans to her, she finally resorts to appealing to his loyalty as a husband:
. . . upon my knees,
I charm you, by my once-commended beauty,
By all your vows of love, and that great vow
Which did incorporate and make us one,
That you unfold to me, your self, your half,
Why you are heavy . . .
Here she is saying that since we made vows of marriage to one another, it is only right that you tell me what is grieving you. When this does not work right away, Portia tries to make him feel a little guilty:
Am I yourself
But, as it were, in sort of limitation
To keep with you at meals, comfort your bed,
And talk to you sometimes? Dwell I but in the suburbs
Of your good pleasure? If it be no more,
Portia is Brutus’ harlot, not his wife.
In other words, she is saying that if Brutus is not willing to share what is going on in his life with her, then she is not really his partner and wife, but more like a cheap mistress.
To show how committed she is to him, Portia then actually stabs herself in the leg:
I have made strong proof of my constancy,
Giving myself a voluntary wound,
Here, in my thigh.
This appears to finally get through to Brutus, who promises to tell Portia what is going on later. However, events proceed and Brutus is forced to flee Rome before he gets a chance. In fact, they never see each other again.