Plays/Julius Caesar - The Role of Women term paper 5927

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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 Caesar?s 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:


?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 husband!


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