Wednesday, August 19, 2009

RE: Julius Caesar - A Woman's Place

Greetings, comrades,

The female characters in Julius Caesar, unfortunately do NOT save this play from being a "boy play." I see Portia and Calpurnia as mere devices against which to reveal the characteristics of their husbands. For example, Shakespeare gives Portia stage directions:

… No, my Brutus,
You have some sick offence within your mind,
Which by the right and virtue of my place
I ought to know of: and, 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 half,
Why you are heavy… (II.i.267-275)

Brutus, similarly has a pseudo-stage direction in telling his wife to rise:

Kneel not, gentle Portia. (II.i.278)

I can see Brutus extend his hand to help her rise. Portia seems, to me, very sincere in caring for Brutus, and wanting to understand what troubles him. Portia's efforts to get information out of her husband are not unlike any wife's attempts to get her spousal unit to talk about feelings, right gentlemen? She uses several tactics here, from reminding him of his marriage vows to perhaps dealing him the "guilt" card by suggesting she is nothing more than his harlot. (hee hee) Has she used these tactics before? hmmmm… I personally like his response to her:

You are my true and honorable wife,
As dear to me as are the ruddy drops
That visit my sad heart. (II.i.288-290)

My female students like that one too (sappy girls, we'll fall for anything!). But at least the kindness of his words, as well as his actions, show his care for his wife, making Brutus look pretty good, right? She should not be supplicating herself to him; in raising her, he acknowledges her as his partner, and indeed the other half of him. He tells her that he will tell all:

Portia, go in a while
And by and by thy bosom shall partake
The secrets of my heart.
All my engagements I will construe to thee
All the charactery of my sad brows. (II.i.304-308)

Now, Gil asserts that Brutus never gets around to telling Portia the truth. I'm not so sure. It's not necessary for Shakespeare to depict this conversation; we already know why Brutus is so troubled. Brutus might very well reveal his dilemma to his wife in the "white spaces" that we don't see. Regardless, the purpose of the scene is to peel back another layer of Brutus' character.

In contrast, we have Caesar and Calpurnia. Calpurnia beseeches her husband not to go to the capital; all the signs of impending doom are present: Calpurnia's dream in which all of nature is awry (connect to Macbeth!), the soothsayer's warning, the priests' reading of the sacrifice. Caesar's line tells us that Calpurnia, too, supplicates herself to her husband:

And these does she apply for warnings and portents
And evils imminent, and on her knee
Hath begg'd that I will stay at home to-day. (II.ii.80-82)

Unlike Brutus, Caesar leaves her on her knees (according to Shakespeare's copious stage directions―just kidding), and goes on to the capital thus swayed by the weak rhetoric and flattery of Decius (sappy Caesar, he'll fall for anything). Hence we see Calpurnia as the undeveloped female character, like Portia, serving only to reveal characteristics of her husband. These are not Shakespeare's deliciously strong or richly developed women like we see elsewhere. I'm skipping the auditions.



Anonymous said...

Hey Cindy,
I am using your blog for an Honors English project and i need your last name for the citation.
Thanks for the help.

Randall said...

Hey Anonymous,
I think if you look to the top right on any page in this blog, you'll find all of our names listed under the "About the Experience" section. Thanks for reading our blog!