Discuss the character of Portia in Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare was a man’s drama. There are only two women characters in the play. In Shakespeare’s work, women were defined by their men.  Calpurnia, Julius Caesar’s wife, was a different personality than Portia, who was married to Brutus. Calpurnia serves as a foil for Caesar when he is deciding whether to go to the Senate. 

Portia’s purpose in the play is more interesting; however, she is portrayed only as the wife of Brutus. It is obvious that Brutus loves and respects his wife. Portia without question asks her husband to share with her his inner most thoughts. 

Portia worries about her husband.  He is not eating nor sleeping.  Brutus has been in deep thought walking around the gardens.  When Portia asks him what is wrong, he just looks  at her unkindly.  Then he stamped his foot and insisted that he would not tell her and waved her away with his hand.

And too impatiently stamp'd with your foot.(255) 
Yet I insisted, yet you answer'd not, 
But with an angry wafture of your hand 

Gave sign for me to leave you. So I did, 

Fearing to strengthen that impatience 

This, to Portia, was extremely rude and hurtful.  She decides that he was just having a masculine moment; and he did act like himself.  This is not like Brutus, and Portia again asks him to share his problems with her.

It is apparent that Portia is perceptive, clever, and sensitive.  She knows that a group of men have come to Brutus early in the morning.  Again, Portia states her case to Brutus: 

Why would he walk around in the early morning and endanger getting sick? Portia believes that Brutus is troubled about some matter that these men have come to discuss with Brutus. 

At this time, Portia proves her worthiness and indicts Brutus for not trusting her.  She understands that she is only a woman.  But her father was a Cato, a great orator and senator.  If Brutus thinks that she is just an ordinary woman, she tries tp  prove her strength by stabbing herself in the thigh to show that she can take anything that Brutus tells her.

Finally, she points out to Brutus that if her only worth is to share his bed and have sex with him, than she is his whore and not his wife. 

After this demonstration of love and support, Brutus agrees to share everything with her.  She is to go to the bedroom and wait on him. 

This does not happen because someone comes to take Brutus to the senate.  On the other hand, Portia seems to know what is happening.  At the end of Act 2, scene iv, she tells the audience that Brutus has a suit that Caesar will not grant.  The suit is Brutus’s disagreement with Caesar becoming the king of Rome.

Reinforcing the idea that she is inteliigent and strong, Portia makes the statement that she has a man’s mind and a woman’s heart.  Portia sends Lucius to follow Brutus and report back to her about Caesar and the Senators. 

Other than the reference to her death in the Act IV, Portia has served her purpose in the play.  Of course, she does have one of the most gruesome of all literary deaths:  she swallow hot coals and dies. 

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