As I have focused thoroughly on the treatment and portrayal of women within Shakespeare’s plays thus far I was heavily intrigued by the characters of Portia and Calpurnia. However, the death and suicide of Porta by swallowing coals is something that was disturbing and made me curious as to why Shakespeare would include something like this within his play. That being said, I decided to further my research on the two characters as a whole.
One interesting thing I found was within a literary critique by Mary Hamer, “The news of Portia’s suicide comes to us at the close of a quarrel between her husband and his friend and on the eve of the battle between men that will take up the whole last act of the play. Portia’s death cannot be separated from the struggles for power that take place between men: it is a disturbing fact that Brutus and Cassius, who had been quarrelling between themselves, make their truce over Portia’s dead body, or its representation” (4). Portia’s death is essential to the plot sequence because this is a play lacking the presence of females to begin with. We also know that one of the female characters are barren and the other does not have any children; therefore the play is also lacking reproduction. This is something that I was surprised to hear upon beginning to read the play and was curious to see how the lack of reproduction would have an effect on the play as a whole. Unfortunately, this meant that the women would yet again be somewhat irrelevant, proving that they were not even necessary or important to the plotline by the gruesome death of Portia. One thing that I was left wondering is whether or not Brutus cared about the death of Portia since her death was recorded within the play twice:
BRUTUS: No man bears sorrow better. Portia is dead.
CASSIUS: Ha, Portia?
BRUTUS: She is dead. (4.3.151-143)
Also, Shakespeare including Calpurnia’s dream was something that intrigued me, because at first Caesar seemed to believe her and was not going to go out because of the dream and Calpurnia worrying for him. This is something that excited me because thus far we have not met a husband who was willing to do something for their wife; however yet again Shakespeare disappointed the female readers by Caesar changing his mind. Hamer too critiques this move, “Caesar doesn’t ask Calpurnia what she thinks her dream means, although it is such a specific warning, unlike the generalized threat they both perceived in the thunder and lightning. Caesar never treats Calpurnia’s dream as a form of perception or as an opinion that she is offering about the world, maybe because the dream is produced not out of a book but out of her own woman’s body, like her voice” (4). It is almost as if Calpurnia knew something was going to happen and foreshadows the fate of Caesar later on in the play, but as usual, because this is coming from the voice of the women it is not taken seriously by Caesar.
As our time left in the semester is dwindling down, so is my hope of finding a female character who is taken seriously and has a strong, positive effect on the play. Portia and Calpurnia seem to be some of the weaker female characters represented by Shakespeare thus far in the fact that their characters didn’t even seem to have a crucial role to the play as a whole; meaning the outcome still would have been the same with or without them. Although, Calpurnia tried her best to warn Caesar, death seemed to be his fate. Although I still do not understand the complete significance or meaning of Portia’s death by swallowing coals, Hamer’s critique certainly gave me some insight on things that I had not considered.
Hamer, Mary. “Portia and Calpurnia.” William Shakespeare: Julius Caesar. Plymouth, U.K.: Northcote House Publishers Ltd., 1998. 30-41. Rpt. in Shakespearean Criticism. Ed. Michael L. LaBlanc. Vol. 74. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.
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In William Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, the wives of Caesar and Brutus in Act II, scenes i and ii, both had a different relationships with their husbands. Both couples loved each other, however, they reacted and influenced to each other differently.
In Act II, scene i, Portia, Brutus’ wife, was a lively yet tough woman with a mind of a man. When Portia noticed
that something was bothering Brutus, she was determined to find out and, to do this, she had to prove him that she was strong enough to keep a secret by giving herself a voluntary wound in the thigh without crying out. Portia cared about Brutus and he was amazed by his brave wife and claimed that he didn’t deserve such a wife. Portia’s sign of bravery influenced Brutus to change his mind and tell his wife his secret that was bothering him. Even though Portia’s plan worked, Brutus was interrupted by Caius before he could finish telling the secret.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">In Act II, scene ii, Calpurnia, wife of Caesar, was a superstitious woman. One day, Calpurnia woke up from a bad dream in which her husband was murdered and thought it as a bad sign so she begged Caesar to stay home instead of going to the Senate House. Calpurnia told Caesar to tell the members that she was scared and wanted him to stay or to tell them Caesar was sick. Caesar had a weak side and Calpurnia’s hysterics influenced him to stay at home instead of going to the House. Calpurina’s plan worked, however, the plan was interrupted, just like Portia’s, when Decius spoke up and cleverly interrupted Calpurina’s bad dream as a good omen and flattered Caesar to come to the Senate House.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Portia and Calpurnia tried to convince their husbands to follow their ways differently and their plans worked for a short time before Caius and Decius came and stole their husbands away. It was obvious that both wives loved and cared greatly about their husbands and they were willing to do anything to help them. The relationship between Brutus and Portia might be different than the relationship between Caesar and Calpurnia, however, both couples seemed to be made for each other and played an important role in each other’s lives.</p>