Julius Caesar is a play about men: their relationships, their culture, and their actions. In the male-dominated world of ancient Rome, characters have a distinct understanding of what it means to be or act like a man. Women in Julius Caesar represent everything that Roman men are not supposed to be—however, the utter disdain men show for feminine traits eventually proves shortsighted, as the play argues that women and their special gifts are not to be taken lightly. In Julius Caesar, masculinity implies not only bravery, but also steadfastness. The opposite traits—weakness, fearfulness, and inconstancy—are mainly associated with women. Male characters continuously use terms such as “womanish” to taunt other men perceived as timid or tractable. Brutus refers to the “melting spirits of women” (2.1.121), and Caesar’s call for water following his epileptic seizure is derided as the actions of “ a sick girl” (1.2.130). When men do exhibit signs of wavering, they often blame their temporary weakness on their mothers, whose “spirits” counteract the decisive, stalwart natures they have inherited from their fathers.
At one point, Casca describes “three or four wenches” enthusiastically forgiving Caesar for his fit and claims that they would have done the same if Caesar had stabbed their own mothers, furthering the portrait of women as fickle, foolish, and gullible (1.2.267–269). The female characters of Julius Caesar seem to internalize these distinctions as well. Portia makes several blanket statements about the female character, exclaiming, “How hard it (2.4.8; 2.4.41–42). Fearing for her husband’s safety, she contrasts her firm, resolute “man’s heart,” which can withstand the strain, with her timorous “woman’s might” (2.4.7). Just as the men perceive the influence of their mothers and fathers as being at odds within their own selves, Portia sees a masculine side of herself competing with her feminine nature.
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