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.