What was the role of women in Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, it is a man’s world.  In the Roman world, women were irrelevant.  They were not allowed to speak in public and were barred from the world of politics.  

A woman’s main function was to serve in the home.  Women in the Shakespearean plays were used to oppose the values of a masculine world. There are only two female characters in Julius Caesar. Calpurnia and Portia love and serve their husbands. 

Calpurnia’s character analysis

Julius Caesar’s wife was Calpurnia.   A wife’s role is as worrier about the safety of her husband.  Calpurnia exclaims: “You shall not stir out of your house today.”

Her purpose in the play was to foreshadow the death of Caesar at the senate.  On the eve of the Ides of March, Calpurnia has a portentous dream.  Calpurnia imagines herself to be “A lioness [that] hath whelped in the streets.”   In comparison, Caesar has asserted that he does not fear death end.  Caesar tells the dream himself:

Calpurnia here, my wife, stays me at home:
She dreamt to-night she saw my statue
Which, like a fountain with an hundred spouts,
Did run pure blood: and many lusty Romans
Came smiling, and did bathe their hands in it:
... and on her knee
Hath begg'd that I will stay at home to-day.

Calpurnia begs Caesar to stay at home. Her pleas seem to find Caesar’s ear until Decius Brutus shows up.  Decius shames Caesar by indicating that women do not know how to interpret dreams.  Thus, Calpurnia is thrust again to the background as a female who worries over nothing.

Portia Character Analysis

Portia is Brutus's devoted wife.  Portia is aware that something has been troubling Brutus. He refuses to confide his problems to Portia.  Portia feels this goes against the confines of marriage. 

Within the bond of marriage, tell me, Brutus,
Is it excepted I should know no secrets
That appertain to you? Am I yourself
To keep with you at meals, comfort your bed,
And talk to you sometimes? Dwell I but in the suburbs
Of your good pleasure? If it be no more,
Portia is Brutus' harlot, not his wife.

Portia’s thoughts indicate that she believes that  Brutus does not trust his wife.  Then, her purpose is only to serve him, and she becomes his prostitute.

Unfortunately, Portia has been convinced that her sex is weaker than men. Intelligent and clever, she is the daughter of the great Cato, a highly reputed Senator; furthermore,  she  believes that she is stronger than most women.  Foolishly, she stabs herself in the thigh showing no pain and demands that Brutus respect her and share his thoughts with her.  Shocked by his wife’s display, he does agree to talk with her later and tell her his problems.  

Although Portia is an admirable wife, Shakespeare uses her character to portray some qualities that most Shakespearean men found annoying. She nags her husband; she attempts to manipulate him with the reminder of her ancestry; and she deigns to interfere with her husband’s inner most thoughts. 

Portia has hinted at a future occurrence with her self-inflicted wound.  Later, in Act IV, Brutus shares that Portia has killed herself by swallowing fire or hot coals.  What a horrible death, yet an interesting turn of events since it is the men who are prone to violence.

Both women love and respect their husbands.  Yet, their opinions are ignored because they represent the feminine sex. To Shakespeare, they should take care of their domestic roles and let the men rule the world.

laurto | Student

There are almost no women in the play, except for the wives of Brutus and Caesar. The wife of Caesar is Calpurnia and the wife of Brutus is Portia. Calpurnia had a dream in which she saw the people of Rome washing their hands in the blood of Caesar. She tells him not to go but Caesar goes anyway. Portia knows that something is wrong with Brutus, but he tells her nothing. Their opinions are ignored because, unfortunately, women were (and still are) considered the weaker sex.  

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Julius Caesar

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