Write character sketches of Calpurnia and Portia.

lit24 | Student

Calpurnia is represented by Shakespeare as the humble and obedient wife of Julius Caesar. Her character is important for the following reasons:

1.To contrast the private, domestic life of Caesar with his public political life: Caesar makes his first appearance on the stage in a "nightdress" and the very first lines that Caesar utters refer to his wife, "Thrice hath Calpurnia in her sleep cried out/'Help ho! they murder Caesar." From the beginning of the play till now all that we have heard about Caesar relates to his warrior like and statesman like qualities. But, Shakespeare foregrounds his first appearance on the stage by presenting him as a worried and anxious husband who is ready to please her initially by agreeing not to go to the Senate,"and for thy humour I will stay at home."

2.To contrast fate and human will: Calpurnia's  intuitive fears,"O Caesar these things are beyond all use/And I do fear them,"  are contrasted with Caesar's self confidence, "It seems to me  most strange that men should fear/Seeing that death a necessary end/Will come when it will come."

3. Calpurnia's  interpretation of her dream is brushed aside and Decius' interpretation is accepted by Caesar to emphasise the significance of the public and the political over the private and the domestic, "How foolish do your fears seem now, Calpurnia."

4.Calpurnia represents the fear and the superstitious beliefs of the  contemporary Elizabethan audience concerning the supernatural.

Like Calpurnia, Portia is also a very humble and obedient wife. However, since Brutus is also a conspirator who is under a lot mental stress because of his plans to assassinate Caesar his relationship with his wife is strained and tense. The obvious reason being he cannot reveal and discuss the finer details of the conspiracy with his innocent wife Portia. This tension is palpable in Act II when Portia on bended knee begs of her husband to know the reason why he has not slept that night. Brutus offers evasive replies, and fortunately for him Ligarius, whom he had sent for, is heard knocking at his door. Brutus hurriedly asks Portia to leave saying that he will reveal everything to her later, "and by and by thy bosom shall partake/The secrets of my heart...Leave me with haste." And she being the obedient wife does so.

After Caesar's assassination and the consequent civil war, Brutus is fully involved in public affairs and circumstances force him to completely ignore his wife with tragic consequences. In ActIV sc.3, Brutus tells Cassius how pitiably she died. Brutus tells Cassius that Portia died by swallowing hot coals. Since Brutus had been away on his military campaign and on hearing that Octavius had joined forces with Antony, she had become very upset and mentally distracted. When she was left unattended she swallowed hot coals of fire and died:I

"Impatient of my absence,
And grief that young Octavius with Mark Antony
Have made themselves so strong:--for with her death
That tidings came;--with this she fell distract,
And, her attendants absent, swallow'd fire."

In marked contrast we never learn from the play how Calpurnia died.

To conclude, both Calpurnia and Portia are important inasmuch as they reveal more of the personalities of their husbands than about themselves.

Read the study guide:
Julius Caesar

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question