Compare and contrast Calphurnia and Portia in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

Quick answer:

In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Calphurnia and Portia are both wives of key figures and their warnings of danger are ignored by their husbands. However, Calphurnia's concern arises from ominous dreams, whereas Portia's is due to her husband's suspicious behavior. Calphurnia ceases her attempts to dissuade her husband from going to the forum, while Portia secretly sends a spy after Brutus. Portia is appreciated by her husband, unlike Calphurnia, who is considered more of an ornament than a partner by Caesar.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Some of the similarities between Calpurnia and Portia are:

*They are the wives of important men in Rome's society

*Their warnings of impending doom are ignored by the men they love

*They are both given relatively small roles within the play and serve as the voice of caution and foreshadowing as each woman suspects that horrible things will befall their husbands

Some of the differences between Portia and Calpurnia are:

*Calpurnia's worry is brought on by strange dreams and images of nature while Portia's worry is brought on by logical deduction as she observes her husband's secret meetings and odd behavior an concludes that something is amiss

*Calpurnia listens to her husband and ceases her attempts to stop him from leaving for the forum. Portia supposedly listens to her husband but actually has a messenger boy sent out to spy on Brutus for her

*Portia is praised, honored and appreciated by her husband (2.1) who wishes to become worthy of her. Calpurnia is not appreciated by Caesar because she cannot bear children and treated more like an ornament than a partner in marriage

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Calphurnia and Portia are women married to very strong men, during a time when men were stronger than usual.  They must be equally strong, in order to endure the trials and tribulations that come with their husbands' positions.  Calphurnia's husband, Caesar, is on a mission to conquer Rome; while Portia's husband, Brutus, is out to stop him.

Calphurnia's role in the play is fairly small, in terms of lines of text, etc.  However, her role is significant, because she tries to stop her husband's death.  She warns Caesar to stay home from the senate, and if he had listened to her, he would have escaped the plot to murder him.  Instead, he was coerced by the murderers not to listen to his wife, for such a thing might weaken his image.  Calphurnia's dream is foreshadowing, and Caesar's pride causes him to ignore her dream and her warning (and we all know how well that worked out for him).

Now Portia, that's a tough woman.  She is desperate to understand what Brutus goes through, even though he tries to shield her from the truth.  She stabs herself in the leg to prove she's strong enough to handle that truth, and later swallows hot coals to end her own life.  It doesn't get much tougher than that.  Her role is more vocal than Calphurnia's, and she tries to keep her husband out of trouble as well, but neither woman can prevent her husband's demise.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare includes two women in the dramatis personae. Calpurnia and Portia have similarities but also are a study in differences. 

Calpurnia, Julius Caesar’s wife, loves her husband.  When she is first mentioned in Act I, Scene ii, Caesar wants Antony to touch her in his race of the Feast of fertility.  Caesar wants an heir by his wife who has no children.

The next time Calpurnia is seen comes in Act II, scene ii.  She has a terrible dream. Her dream seems so real that she begs Caesar not to go to the Capitol.  The dreams describes Caesar’s statue with a hundred holes which had pure blood coming from them.  There were Romans smiling and bathing their hands in the blood.   Actually, Caesar is stabbed thirty three times; and, the conspirators do bathe their hands in Caesar’s blood. 

Calpurnia begs Caesar not to go to the Capitol.  She fears that the dream will come true.  After listening to her, Caesar agrees to stay at home.  Unfortunately, Decius Brutus comes to make sure that Caesar does go to the Senate.  He reinterprets her dream and makes it into a positive.  Calpurnia’s wishes are swept aside. 

Portia, Brutus’s wife, shows frustration.  She knows that something is going on with Brutus.  He has not been sleeping and does not communicate with her.  She believes that if they are husband and wife, there should be no secrets.  If not, then she is no better than a whore. 

When Brutus refuses to confide in Portia, she takes issue with his secrecy. She further points out that her father was a great man; her husband is a great man; then, why will Brutus not trust her?

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?
Tell me your counsels, I will not disclose 'em…

To prove her loyalty and strength, Portia stabs herself in the thigh. Brutus is impressed and promises to share his dilemma with her.  He is not able to tell her about his joining the conspiracy because the conspirators show up to see if Brutus will join them.  Immediately, they leave to go to Caesar’s house to ensure that he will go to the Senate. 

Portia seems to know more than she tells Brutus. She sends the servant to the senate to spy on Brutus and return to tell her what is happening.  Portia is mentioned later when she commits suicide by swallowing hot coals. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Both are women, both are wives of key statesmen (Portia - Brutus, Calpurnia - Julius Caesar). Both women try to persuade their husbands and succeed - Portia persuades Brutus to tell her the details of the conspiracy, and Calpurnia persuades Julius Caesar not to go to the capitol because she has had bad dreams.

However, Brutus does tell Portia about the conspiracy (not that it makes any difference) where Caesar, although he does momentarily agree not to go to the capitol, is soon persuaded around by Decius Brutus.

"How foolish do you fears seem now, Calpurnia", Caesar says, "I am ashamed that I did yield to them" - and that is the last time Calpurnia is ever mentioned in the play. She makes no re-entrance, and is never spoken about after her husband's death.

Portia too meets a sticky end: we find in the quarrel scene between Brutus and Cassius that she commits suicide by swallowing hot coals. She too is never seen on the stage after the murder.

So Portia is the character with the more stage time - a little more self-righteous, a little more forceful, and (the key difference) her persuading is ultimately successful. But both women persuade, both women are largely irrelevant to the political gameplaying of their husband, and both women vanish from the stage: Portia to death, and Calpurnia just vanishes!

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Compare and contrast the marriage between Calphurnia and Caesar with the marriage between Brutus and Portia in Julius Caesar.

Both Calphurnia and Portia are dutiful wives to their respective husbands, but with much different motivations. Both are alongside their husbands near the beginning of the play during the feast of Lupercall. Here Caesar instructs Calphurnia to stand directly in Antonio’s way during the Lupercall chase, so he may touch her to “shake off this sterile curse,” implying that they have sexual contact with Caesar’s blessing. Nothing is exchanged between Portia and Brutus. Calphurnia dreams Caesar is murdered, and and on her knees implores him not to go to the senate. Similarly, Portia kneels to Brutus as he finishes planning the assassination with the conspirators when she insists on his telling her what bothers him, “...That you vnfold to me, your selfe; your halfe...” and bear his burdens with him as a good wife should. She further comments that if he does not share his burdens with her, She is then “Brutus Harlot, not his Wife,” tacitly acknowledging the relationship between Caesar and Calphurnia as suggested in Act 1. Caesar dismisses Calphurnia’s “foolish fears;” in contrast, Brutus is about to take Portia into his confidence and divulge the assassination plot when they are interrupted. Curiously, Calphurnia is never mentioned in the play after her dream; Brutus learns of Portia’s suicide just before his defeat in battle, suggesting she stood by him up to and including death.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on