Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Character Thursday: Portia in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar

Have I ever taken anyone from Shakespeare to be my Character Thursday? I can't remember. But the lady whose name is written clearly up there certainly deserves a place in this, or any other, blog. Portia – Cato's daughter and Brutus' beloved wife.

Portia's part is quite minor in the play. She appears after the conspirators' meeting in Brutus' house. She is anxious about the well-fare of her husband, and insists upon knowing the secret that Brutus keeps, promising that she won't leak it out.

What's interesting about Portia is the words she uses to convey her feelings to Brutus. As his wife, she demands Brutus to think of her as half himself, that she should partake in everything Brutus must face.

Within the Bond of Marriage, tell me Brutus,
Is it excepted, I should know no Secrets
That appertaine to you? Am I your Selfe,
But as it were in sort, or limitation?
To keepe with you at Meales, comfort your Bed,
And talke to you sometimes? Dwell I but in the Suburbs
Of your good pleasure? If it be no more,
Portia is Brutus Harlot, not his Wife

In Portia's mind, marriage is more than just living together, having meals together, and have fun together. It includes being “one flesh”, not “in limitation” but in all things. Being married to someone means that you are ready to share everything – good or bad – with your spouse. And to listen to such a thing from a woman, moreover, in Shakespeare's era, is something quite modern.

Another point worth noted from Portia is her opinion about herself. She admits that although there are many “weak women”, Portia is certainly not one of them.

I graunt I am a Woman; but withall,
A Woman that Lord Brutus tooke to Wife:
I graunt I am a Woman; but withall,
A Woman well reputed: Cato's Daughter.
Thinke you, I am no stronger then my Sex
Being so Father'd, and so Husbanded?

She says that being a daughter of Cato and the wife of Brutus, she must be a strong woman worthy of her father and husband. By saying she's “stronger than her sex,” she underlines that she can handle things other women cannot. She proves it first by deliberately wounds herself and later, by swallowing fire – committing suicide.

Brutus admits that her death is a great lost in his part, and yes, such a woman deserves not only love but also respect from her husband. She may be a minor character in this play, but not weaker in characterisation.  


  1. yeah, I can see her strong determination from the scene at Brutus' house after the conspirators' meeting. By the way, I just realized that Portia's father was Cato--I mean 'the' Cato, the stubborn Stoic senator who was always in conflict with Julius Caesar. No wonder, Portia inherited her father's stubbornness... :D

  2. this is very interesting Listra. even the quotes you provided showed a strong-willed woman who saw herself as an equal to her husband yet they also hinted at her love and devotion for him and for their union.

  3. Great post! There aren't any women as noble as she in the play I'm reading -- Macbeth. Macbeth's lady is a real terror. :)

    1. I haven't had the chance to read Macbeth. But from your post I can see that the lady is not very much ladylike there, though she shows strong determination and ambition.

      Thank you.