How are relationships and women portrayed in the drama Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare?

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

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Women played secondary roles in Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare.  The two women in this drama --Calpurnia and Portia-- serve the purpose of giving details and moving the plot forward. 

Both women in the play are married to men of authority and are respected in their society.  Their relationships with their husbands indicate different personalities and purposes. Though for their era these women were powerful, they were still subservient to their husbands.

Calpurnia

Caesar’s wife serves two purposes in the play. The first is to let the audience know why Octavius Caesar is Caesar’s heir.  Calpurnia has not had any children.  Caesar wanted an heir to his power with his wife.  He had a child by Cleopatra, so Caesar believed that it was Calpurnia who was barren.

Secondly, Calpurnia’s role is to foreshadow the assassination. In Act II, Scene ii, Calpurnia talks in her sleep about Caesar being killed.  She later relates her dream to him of seeing Caesar's statue spouting blood and Romans bathing their hands in Caesar’s blood. This dream scares Caesar because eventually he agrees to stay at home. 

When Caesar and Calpurnia talk, she is so distraught that she bows before Caesar and begs him not to go.  She tells Caesar that someone has come to the house and told her that there were terrible sights in the streets of Rome during the storm the night before.  There were lions giving birth in the streets; there was fighting in the skies and blood pouring from the heavens.

Although he gives in to her pleas, Caesar is goaded into going by one of the conspirators who said that it would seem womanish if he did not go to the Capitol.  Caesar, despite his promise to his wife, agrees to go.

Portia

Her relationship with Brutus conveys a stronger woman than Calpurnia, as a woman who is aware of the assassination plot.  She knows that something is happening. 

First, Portia is a well-respected woman in addition to being Brutus’s wife.  Her father was a senator.  She is strong, but again submissive to her husband. Portia knows that Brutus has been worried; consequently, she expected him to share his problems with her. 

When he does not, Portia cuts herself on her thigh to prove that she is strong and can be trusted. Shocked, Brutus agrees to tell her everything at a later time. She also gets down on her knees to beg Brutus to share what is happening.

Upon my knees

I charm you by my once commended beauty.

By all your vows of love, and that great vow

Which did incorporate and make us one

That you unfold to me, yourself, your other half

Why you are heavy…

It is apparent that their relationship is strong, with a bond based on respect and admiration.

Portia worries when Brutus goes to the Capitol and so sends her servant to check on him and bring her back news. She has served her purpose by furthering the development of Brutus as the protagonist of Julius Caesar.

Both of these women help to develop their husbands’ characters and foreshadow their demise. The women play supporting roles but also enhance the plot of the drama.

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