How are gender and sexuality presented in the play, Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare?
Portia and Calpurnia are both strong women who influence their husbands.
The concept of gender and sexuality is represented through the two strong women, Portia and Calpurnia. Portia uses violence to get her husband’s attention when she feels that he is shutting her out, and Calpurnia influences her husband’s choice not to go to the capital on the Ides of March.
Brutus’s wife, Portia, scolds him for not telling her what is going on. Portia is a shrewd woman. She is aware that her husband is hiding something from her. She reminds him that she is a strong woman, and she is not willing to stand by while he keeps secrets from her.
If this were true, then should I know this secret.
I grant I am a woman; but withal
A woman that Lord Brutus took to wife:
I grant I am a woman; but withal
A woman well-reputed, Cato's daughter.
Think you I am no stronger than my sex,
Being so father'd and so husbanded? (Act 2, Scene I)
Brutus gives in to her, telling her that he will tell her later what is going on. He knows that his wife is not quite stable. In fact, she is willing to go so far as to take out a knife and cut herself to prove her loyalty and her commitment.
Later, Portia continues to spy on Brutus. She wants to make sure that she is aware of his comings and goings in case he is about to get into trouble. When she learns of the conspiracy, her worst fears are confirmed.
I must go in. Ay me, how weak a thing
The heart of woman is! O Brutus,
The heavens speed thee in thine enterprise!
Sure, the boy heard me: Brutus hath a suit
That Caesar will not grant. O, I grow faint. (Act 2, Scene 4)
Portia fears for Brutus. Of course, her fears are well founded. After he kills Caesar, Portia is left behind. Eventually, she engages in an act of rebellion of her own, and commits suicide, apparently by eating hot coals.
Portia represents an almost manly woman. She is the tough wife, stronger than her sex, as she puts it, who refuses to take a back burner. She also does not stay out of politics. In Ancient Rome, women might have had a lesser role than men, but behind the scenes, they were known to be influential indeed.
Caesar’s wife Calpurnia represents another influential woman. Although she is a more feminine figure than Portia, and perhaps more dignified, she played the proper Roman wife. In Rome, superstition was of significant importance. This is why Calpurnia’s dreams would not have been taken lightly. Calpurnia also recounts the omens that Caesar is supposed to be paying attention to, just as the conspirators have.
Caesar, I never stood on ceremonies,
Yet now they fright me. There is one within,
Besides the things that we have heard and seen,
Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch.
A lioness hath whelped in the streets;
And graves have yawn'd, and yielded up their dead… (Act 2, Scene 2)
Calpurnia’s fears, and dreams of Caesar’s statue covered in blood, are enough to get him to say that he will remain behind and not go to the capital on the Ides of March. Whether Calpurnia’s dreams were influenced by the Soothsayer’s warnings, or she had predictions independently, she had more success because of her influence over Caesar.
Caesar is ready to say that he will not go, until Decius Brutus intervenes.
Mark Antony shall say I am not well,
And, for thy humour, I will stay at home. (Act 2, Scene 2)
Caesar refuses to tell the senators he is sick, as Calpurnia asks, but says that he will not come. He is willing to humor his wife, but only so far. Decius Brutus is able to play on Caesar’s ego more than she can. He convinces Caesar that not going will look like weakness, and also that the senators are about to vote Caesar a crown. Does he want to accept it or make sure to refuse it? It is unclear. (More likely the latter.) Either way, he has to be there for that. Decius Brutus makes a situation where Caesar has to go.
In contrast to Portia’s boldness, Calpurnia has a subtler touch. Yet she too is manipulating her husband. For Calpurnia to have kept Caesar, the well-known womanizer, as her husband, she must have had some kind of feminine wiles. He definitely loved her, and respected her opinion. If Decius Brutus had not intervened and been so persuasive, she would have succeeded in keeping him home that day.
Portia and Calpurnia both tried to save their husbands' lives, in their own ways. Each woman was faced with a difficult situation, and had a premonition of fear. Although the two woman are a contrast in femininity, both of them find ways to get what they want with the feminine touch, even though neither of them succeeds completely.