The Role of Women
Throughout all time that humans have been around, the males have
always been dominant. It is only in the past fifty years that females have become almost as important and equal in society. In plays by Shakespeare, most of the main speaking parts are the characters of
meant. Women do not have a large significance and influence upon the actions of the men. The males often try to insult each other in a play such as Macbeth by insinuating that the other was not a full
man, and maybe slightly feminine.
There is a lot known about society four hundred years ago, in the lifetime of William Shakespeare and the reader of his work can tell how sexist some people were
then from the speech and actions of characters. Could it be the society that he lived in that influenced his writing, or was it just him personally who was like that We know that at the time the women
characters in all plays were acted by young males who possessed high voices for men. So Shakespeare might have been influenced by other people and it was just the normal way of life at the time to treat
women in an inferior way to men. Some of the famous women characters such as Juliet form Romeo and Juliet and Lady Macbeth from Macbeth had large roles in their plays, but there is usually only one main
woman, and compared to several leading men. This is prejudiced. Also, a good point for women in the play; they were protected by men such as their husband, father/ family and friend. Little harm cam to
them and if they died, it was by suicide, not murder.
In Julius Caesar, there are two women characters. They are Brutus wife; Portia who has a larger part than Caesars wife; Calphurnia. Portia is
the daughter of Cato, a famous warrior who fought for Rome and bravely killed himself to prevent being captured by his enemies. Portia has inherited his courageous ways by believing and practising the
stoic philosophy. She tries to love her husband very much and share his worries, but he is not treating her properly because of the assassination plot against Caesar. She says in a conversation with her
husband Brutus: BRUTUS:
Kneel not, gentle Portia.
I should not need, if you were gentle Brutus.
Later in the conversation she accuses of him
treating her like a wife who is there to look
after things, cook and comfort his bed.
“To keep with you at meals, comfort your bed, And talk to sometimes.
Dwell I but in the suburbs Of your good pleasure If it be no more, Portia is Brutus harlot, not his wife.”
Act 2, Scene 1, Lines 278-287.
Portia is a Stoic, which
was a way o f thinking that one could put the mind over matter. To prove that she could bear pain, she stabbed herself in the thigh. Towards the end of the book she became very worried about Brutus and
almost hysterical around the time of the assassination plot. She has great courage and commits suicide by swallowing burning coals as Stoics believed it was better to kill yourself than to suffer until
you died naturally.
Calphurnia has different and similar ways in comparison to Portia. Unlike Portia, she has no aspirations for her husband or herself and she is weaker by allowing herself to get
upset about nightmares and does not influence her husband as much as Portia does. Although she loves Caesar, I think she is weak in her actions towards her husband and takes the “sterile curse”
indictment without any resistance. In other words, Caesar is impotent, but pretends to all Romans that it is her fault and that if many people touch her, the curse will be removed, which of course is not
true. Caesar says to Marc Anthony:
“Forget not, in your speed, Antonius, To touch Calphurnia; for our elders say,
The barren, touched in this holy chase, Shake off their sterile curse.”
I think that Caesar pretends that it is Calphurnia who has the problem because as a leader of the Country and as society was
at the time the play was written, men had to be better than women if they were to fit in with society. This was Caesar’s way. Every year on the 15 February was the Feast of Lupercal. People gathered in
the street ands decorated statues and buildings. Lupercus was the god of fertility and flocks. This was when sterile women were paraded down the
streets so lots of men could touch them. The women had
no choice in this sexist time and had to obey their husbands.
In Act Two,
Scene Two, the events and action goes from Brutus to Calphurnia and Caesar. It is the Ides of March. Calphurnia woke up in the night three times because she had nightmares about people murdering Caesar.
Calphurnia worked out from her dream that Caesar must not go to the Senate House or something bad would happen to him. In her dreams she saw a lioness give birth in the street, the dead rise from their
graves, visions of “fiery” warriors in the clouds that rained blood on the Senate building, the noise of battle, and a fountain from which flowed blood. Caesar tried to argue with her that these bad
things were not meant for him, but for the whole world. I think that if Calphurnia was a man, Caesar would believe her, but because she is a woman, he is meant to know more than her, as he is a man, she
has got her facts wrong. To persuade Caesar even more not to listen to Calphurnia, one of the conspirators, Decius, who came to fetch Caesar to escort him to the Senate House. tells him that the fountain
flowing with blood did not represent the dead body of Caesar, but that the life of the city was flowing smoothly. Blood was associated with the supernatural, and meant vitality.
Caesar said to Calphurnia:
“Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, It seems to me most strange that men should fear, Seeing that death, a necessary end, Will come when it will come”
Caesar was trying to prove to Calphurnia that he is
not a coward, and would go to the Senate House whether he gets killed or not. Obviously, Calphurnia could not influence Caesar as much as Portia can influence Brutus.
Summing up the two women, I
think that they did not have much influence on the course of events in Julius Caesar. Most times, both of them could not even convince their husbands to do what they wanted them to do. This is typical of
all husbands and wives at the time as women did not have power. I think that out of the two women, Portia was the more important character and slightly more
influential over her husband than
Calphurnia was. I use the word slightly because I think that neither of them could control situations or their husbands very well. I chose Portia because her husband seemed to listen to her more and she
was brave, unlike the weak woman-like personality of Calphurnia. For a woman to survive at this time, she would have to be domineering, strong-willed and persuasive with everything, including her