How do the wives of Brutus and Caesar affect their husbands in Act II of Julius Caesar?

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

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Women play a small part in William Shakespeare's plays.  The two ladies in Julius Caesar play minor roles, supporting their husbands.  They are confined to the household and not seen in public.  Both of the women try to influence their husbands in their struggles, but neither is completely successful.  There are distinct differences in the presentation of the two women.

Portia, the wife of Brutus, is the first of the two to appear.  She alludes to the fact that she knows what Brutus is planning to do to Caesar. She tells him that it is her right as his wife to share his burdens with him.  Because Brutus does lot listen to her, Portia is convinced that he has no confidence in her.  She first kneels, then begs him to share his secrets, and finally, stands up dramatically, stating:  

Think you I am no stronger than my sex,

 Being so fathered and so husbanded?

Portia’s father is Cato, a great orator and senator. 

In her attempts to try to get Brutus to share with her his troubles, she stabs herself in the thigh to prove her strength. Brutus yields to Portia, acknowledging her strength. She remarks to the audience:

 I have a man's mind, but a woman's might.

 How hard it is for women to keep counsel!

Later, when she perceives that Brutus may be killed, Portia is so distressed that she swallows hot coals and kills herself.

In contrast, Caesar ignores and spurns Calpurnia's warnings against attending Senate. Calpurnia talks in her sleep.  She has been dreaming about his murder. Calpurnia tells Caesar that he must not leave the house that day; but he insists that he will since none would dare attack him.

To further sway Caesar, Calpurnia describes what has happened in the streets of Rome. The night watchmen had seen a lioness give birth in the streets, graves opened, the dead walked, and blood ran in the streets of the Capitol. Caesar is still not swayed, saying that these omens could be intended for anyone, and that no-one can escape what the Gods have decreed. Finally, he promises her that he will stay at home with her to please her.

Then, one of the conspirators comes who is responsible for getting Caesar to the Senate.  Decius is able to convince him that his wife is silly in her concern. Calpurnia also gets down on her knees and begs her husband not to go to the Senate on that day. Without a second thought, Caesar leaves his wife to worry for his life.

Clearly, Calpurnia is not as powerful a woman as Portia. Both women go to extreme actions to attempt to sway their husbands. Ironically, Calpurnia's dream of a Caesar statue bleeding from a hundred holes with which Romans bath their hands, is an accurate prediction of Caesar's death.

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