Contrast the relationship between Caesar and Calpurnia with the relationship between Brutus and Portia. What do the differences suggest about the character of each man?

Calpurnia is portrayed as a fairly typical Roman wife, the subordinate of her husband. Portia is the idealized Roman matron, as close as possible in that society to being her husband's equal. Brutus and Portia love each other in their cold Roman fashion, but public duty always comes first for them.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Caesar and Calpurnia seem to have a more traditional marriage by Roman standards. Caesar is the public figure who goes out into the world while Calpurnia's influence is limited to the home. By contrast, Portia is more of a cerebral character, hoping to be Brutus' confidante in things both inside...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Caesar and Calpurnia seem to have a more traditional marriage by Roman standards. Caesar is the public figure who goes out into the world while Calpurnia's influence is limited to the home. By contrast, Portia is more of a cerebral character, hoping to be Brutus' confidante in things both inside and outside of the domestic sphere. The daughter of the celebrated orator Cato, Portia makes a strong case for Brutus to share all of his secrets and fears with her, even showing off a self-inflicted wound she made to prove her resilience.

The scenes where the women try to convince their husbands to do as they wish illustrate these differences best. Calpurnia uses her dream, recent omens (ex. tombs "yield[ing] up their dead, etc.), and anxiety to try to sway Caesar from leaving home on the Ides of March. Caesar rebukes her suggestion that he stay home, viewing it as cowardly to give into suspicion (even though he is a suspicious man himself), but briefly humors her when she says he can say he stayed home for her sake. Portia uses not only an emotional appeal in claiming he treats her like a harlot rather than a wife so long as he limits their relationship to the domestic sphere, but also logic in her argument, deflecting his claims that he is physically ill rather than anxious and worried about something with solid reasoning. Unlike Caesar, Brutus also seems more inclined to take his wife seriously ("O ye gods, / Render me worthy of this noble wife!").

While the two marriages in question are quite different, they do share some similarities. Both Calpurnia and Portia care enough about their husbands' well-being to try to intervene in their public life. And to Calpurnia's credit, she is apparently valued enough by Caesar that he almost stays home just to humor her fears. Both men also appear to genuinely love their wives, though only Brutus seems to view his wife as an equal.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Shakespeare generally regards Roman culture as cold, formal, and inhumane. Husbands and wives are not particularly close. The Roman matron is dignified and honorable, and supports her husband in his public career. Caesar is shown to be both a typical Roman patrician in his chilly arrogance, though unusually vulnerable in his superstitious nature. Both these aspects of his character are encouraged by Calpurnia, who panders to his self-image, even as she shares her forebodings about his future. She is a supportive wife, and beyond this seems to have little individuality.

Brutus and Portia are a more equal couple. When Brutus refuses to tell Portia what is troubling him, Portia insists upon her right to know. She is the daughter of Cato, a statesman with a legendary reputation, as well as the woman Brutus chose to marry. This means, according to Portia, that she is above the general run of womankind, just as Brutus is superior to other men. If he refuses to confide in her, this will be an insult, showing that he regards her as "Brutus's harlot, not his wife."

Brutus agrees to tell Portia about the conspiracy, admitting that she is superior to other men's wives. If he does not seem too perturbed by her death, saying that he has "the patience to endure it," this has more to do with Shakespeare's perception of Roman stoicism than Brutus's lack of attachment. Portia is the ideal Roman woman, as Brutus is the perfect Roman stoic, statesman, and nobleman. If the audience does not much care for either of them, it is because the ideals themselves are false and inhuman. To have a more passionate, fiery relationship than Brutus's with Portia, a Roman would have to abandon both Roman values and Roman women, as Mark Antony is soon to do.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, there are only two women characters:  Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife, and Portia, the wife of Brutus. Both women beg there men for something that they do not receive.  Both men wanted to follow the guidance of their wives but were unable to do so because of the conspiracy.

In the play, Portia is the more prominent of the two wives. Her father was a great statesman.  Portia and Brutus apparently have a loving relationship.  Yet, Brutus has not shared any of his struggles concerning whether or not to join the conspiracy.

By not including his wife in the decision, Brutus shows the powerlessness of women to impact men’s decisions. Portia’s purpose is to show the humanity of Brutus who is impressed with his wife’s determination to help him.

On the other hand, Portia is aware that something is causing Brutus pain. 

 No, my Brutus,
You have some sick offense within your mind,
Which by the right and virtue of my place I ought to know of…

Portia uses every feminine wile that she can to get Brutus to share his problem with her: 

  • Gets down on her knees and begs
  • Gives her credentials as daughter of Cato and wife of Brutus
  • Mentions her renowned beauty
  • Tells Brutus that she has seen the conspirators there
  • Tries to guilt him for not sharing his secrets
  • States that she is a whore rather than wife if he does not share with her

Portia goes one step more when she stabs herself in the thigh to prove to Brutus that she is strong and can help him if he will just share with her his problems.

Brutus is impressed and appalled with Portia and what she has done to prove herself to him. He tells her that he will share everything with her; however, this does not happen because one of the conspirators comes to take Brutus to Caesar’s house and join the conspiracy.

Brutus follows the rules of stoicism. Portia as is wife follows Brutus’s lead; therefore, she keeps inside  all the deep feeling, tenderness, and anxiety that are aroused in her by her husband's problems. She even sends their servant boy to the senate to watch and bring her news of the occurrences at the senate.

Later, when Portia believes that Brutus has been defeated and caught by the conspirators, she can no longer hold her feelings inside.  In a fit of madness, she takes a hot coal and places it in her mouth.  She falls dead as another victim of the assassination plot.

In Act IV, Brutus learns of Portia’s death and is grief stricken.  As a stoic, Brutus does not show his emotions outwardly.  From his demeanor and words, it is obvious that Brutus loved Portia and is saddened by her death.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team