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Women s Roles in Julius Caesar

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Date added: 19-03-26


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Throughout history, a woman's role in society has been viewed differently by different perspectives across the world. While women in today's modern, western society enjoy relative equality, women in the past were viewed as inferior to men, solely useful for bearing children and maintaining the home. In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, women are seen as overly emotional, not constant, superstitious, and had no voice in their homes or in the political world. Shakespeare in Julius Caesar uses Calpurnia and Portia to portray the struggle between the perceived nature of women during Roman times and the true nature of women.Calpurnia represents the power of womanhood that is underestimated because of stereotypes of women during Roman times. Calpurnia has ominous dreams of Caesar's impending murder and tries to convince him to not go forth today and even gets on her knees to prevail in this (Shakespeare 2.2.54-55, 58).

Calpurnia tries to persuade Caesar to stay home out of her own love and concern for him. She embodies wifely love and support and encompasses the true power of womanhood by even getting down on one knee to convince him. Once Caesar is convinced to stay home, Decius, one of the conspirators, convinces Caesar to come to the Senate by manipulating Calpurnia's description of her dreams saying that they signified reviving blood, and that great men shall press/ For tinctures, stains, relics, and cognizance (Shakespeare 2.2.94-95). Caesar is quick to recoil on what his wife told him, asking, How foolish do your fears seem now, Calpurnia! and states he is ashamed I [Caesar] did yield to them (Shakespeare 2.2.110-112). Caesar quickly discounts Calpurnia's thoughts over the thoughts of another man's even though Calpurnia is his wife and has his best interests at heart.. Calpurnia's power as a wife and a woman is taken from her and underestimated, and seen as womanish superstition (Plutarch: Life of Caesar).

The underestimation of women in Roman times, specifically Portia, occurs because of stereotypes and the inferior image of women in Roman society.Portia does not represent the underestimation of women; rather the incorrect assumption that womanly strength is manly strength. Seeing that Brutus is distressed and awake in the middle of the night, she asks him to tell me [Portia] your counsels, and even gives proof of my [Portia's] constancy by stabbing herself in her thigh (Shakespeare 2.1.318-323). Even though Portia is a woman herself, she believes the incorrect Roman stereotypes about women and tries to prove that she is not like them. Although Portia possesses powerful womanly and wifely strength, Portia tries to prove that she is worthy and able to handle Brutus' secret by convincing [him] that a man's body is not that much different from a woman's body after all (Hamer).

Desperate and anxious for good news regarding Brutus and the conspiracy, Portia faces enormous pressure to keep the secret, stating that she has man's mind but a woman's might (Shakespeare 2.4.9). Being impatient of my [Brutus'] absence, the grief causes her to swallow fire (Shakespeare 4.3.174, 179). Being an Roman educated woman, she has been taught to value manly power and silence her womanly instincts and conscience (Hamer). Because she does not value her power as a woman, she could not recognize when she was putting herself in mental distress and real danger. Portia represents the antithetical misconception that womanly and manly strength are the same.The stereotypes in the Roman World and the misunderstandings of women's true power result in death and demise. Because he does not listen to Calpurnia's warnings and pleads, then fall Caesar (Shakespeare 3.1.199). Caesar suffered the consequences of not believing his wife through his death. Caesar's assassination insinuates that men should put more faith into the insight and warnings of women (Lone).

Feeling guilt and being haunted by Caesar's ghost at the battlefield, feeling imminent defeat to the forces of Mark Antony and Octavius, Brutus commits suicide and calls for Caesar to now be still stating that he killed him with not half so good a will (Shakespeare 5.5.56-57). He regrets his decision to go against his morals and reason by killing Caesar. Lone says, They {Portia and Calpurnia} themselves are strong women, but the men are unwilling to accept the reality and in the end become pathetic figures, and die tragic deaths (Lone). At the end of the bloody battle, Octavius, the new Caesar of the Roman Empire, leaves to part the glories of this happy day (Shakespeare 5.5.87). Octavius goes on to reap the rewards of the battle by destroying the republic that Brutus killed to protect. The imminent destruction and annihilation of the republic is a direct result of the relations between Roman men and women, specifically the misconceptions of the role of women in Roman life.

Misconceptions about the role and power of women in society brings about death and destruction in Julius Caesar.In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare utilizes Portia and Calpurnia to convey the conflict between the perceived disposition of women in Roman society and the true disposition of women. The inherent power and strength of women is seen in both Portia and Calpurnia, but societal norms hold them back from reaching their potential and eventually culminates in the end of the Roman republic. Although women and men are not the same physically and mentally, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, both are equally needed and important in order to maintain a stable society in our world.

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