Forget not in your speed, Antonius,
To touch Calphurnia, for our elders say
The barren, touchèd in this holy chase,
Shake off their sterile curse. (1.2.8–11)
When first introduced, Calpurnia is depicted as being infertile. In fact, Caesar asks Antony to touch Calpurnia as he runs by her during his race as it is believed that this act may help her to become pregnant. Calpurnia’s impotence extends beyond the physical and is demonstrated when she fails to persuade Caesar to not go to the capital. Calpurnia’s situation reflects how all women were viewed at the time. The fact that she is blamed for her inability to conceive a child and that her husband would disregard her pleas symbolizes the overall lack of power women had in the domestic realm.
How foolish do your fears seem now, Calpurnia!
I am ashamèd I did yield to them.
Give me my robe, for I will go. (2.2.105–107)
After having an ominous dream, Calpurnia believes she is being warned of Caesar’s murder. In addition, she interprets the presence of the comet in the sky and the other strange happenings as omens foretelling Caesar’s death. At first, Caesar placates his wife’s concerns by telling Decius that he will not go to the senate that day. But after Decius insinuates that Caesar will look weak for not going and puts his own spin on Calpurnia’s dream, Caesar dismisses his wife’s concerns, an act that symbolizes the powerlessness of all women in that society. This depiction of Calpurnia’s lack of power and influence over her husband demonstrates the social dynamic of men placing politics over their own feelings and domestic affairs.
If this were true, then should I know this secret.
I grant I am a woman, but withal
A woman that Lord Brutus took to wife.
I grant I am a woman, but withal
A woman well-reputed, Cato’s daughter.
Think you I am no stronger than my sex,
Being so fathered and so husbanded?
Tell me your counsels. I will not disclose ‘em.
I have made strong proof of my constancy,
Giving myself a voluntary wound
Here in the thigh. Can I bear that with patience,
And not my husband’s secrets? (2.1.300–311)
After Portia witnesses how her husband Brutus’s inner conflict affects his mental health, she implores him to share his concerns with her. Portia’s emotional appeal focuses on making Brutus feel guilty for leaving her out and persuading him that she is strong enough to keep his secret. She even stabs herself in the thigh to illustrate the strength of her commitment to him, a drastic act revealing Portia’s understanding that she must go to an extreme to get her own husband to listen to her. Despite all of her efforts, Brutus simply dismisses Portia when he hears someone at the door. Even though Brutus acknowledges Portia’s strength and worthiness as his wife, he never consents to tell her what he is doing. Brutus’s actions demonstrate his disregard for his wife and his prioritizing his political concerns above her needs, and symbolize the power men have over women in Roman society.
Speak no more of her.—Give me a bowl of wine.—
In this I bury all unkindness, Cassius. (4.3.163–164)
During their argument, Brutus tells Cassius about Portia’s suicide, a revelation that helps reconcile Brutus and Cassius’s friendship. When Cassius offers his condolences, Brutus simply dismisses Portia’s death, drinks to her, and moves on with their plans. Such a moment reveals Brutus’s true concerns and further symbolizes the prioritizing of politics, which can be viewed as the realm of men, over personal issues, including one’s marriage. Portia’s suicide is depicted as ineffectual and meaningless; even in death Portia is unable to emotionally move her husband, revealing her impotence as a character and symbolizing the impotence of all women in Roman society.