Portia is one of only two female characters in William Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’. In this lesson, we will look at a few of her quotes and analyze her character.
Tough Girl Portia
Have you ever had to convince someone to confide in you? Someone you consider so close that you should both share your secrets? It can be very frustrating to be left in the dark, as the character Portia understands all too well in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
In this play, the character Portia stabs herself in the thigh to show her husband, Brutus, that she could be trusted. While this is probably her most interesting motive, she also challenges gender stereotypes as well. She only speaks sixteen times in the play, but she makes good use of her lines and really adds an interesting dynamic.
Portia Knows Something’s Wrong
One of the first times we hear from Portia, she begs Brutus to tell her what’s bothering him. She says ‘when I ask’d you what the matter was, / You stared upon me with ungentle looks.’ Further, she explains, ‘with an angry wafture of your hand, / Gave sign for me to leave you.
‘ In other words, when Portia asked Brutus what was wrong, he gave her dirty looks and waved her away with his hand. She knows something’s up.Portia begs him to tell her when she says ‘Make me acquainted with your cause of grief.’ She is not simply playing the role of doting submissive wife.
She wants to be a partner in the knowledge of what is wrong with her husband.
Portia Does’t Buy Brutus’s Excuses
Brutus tries to convince Portia that he is simply feeling sick, but she knows better, and instead of just accepting his lie, she presses further. Portia says ‘No, my Brutus; / You have some sick offence within your mind, / Which, by the right and virtue of my place, / I ought to know of.’In these lines, Portia calls Brutus out on his lies.
She also tells him that she knows he is bothered with something in his mind, and since she is his wife, she should know what it is. This insistence reveals how determined Portia is. She wants to play an active role in his life, rather than just quietly support him in his unknown quests.
A Strong Woman
As the conversation continues, Brutus still tries to shield Portia from his plot against Caesar. He tells her that he loves her and that she should go to bed.
Portia is relentless, and asks ‘Think you I am no stronger than my sex, Being so father’d and so husbanded?’ In this question, Portia recognizes that people view women as weak. She is saying that she is stronger than most women. Since her father was a strong man, and so is her husband, Brutus should see that as evidence of her strength.
These lines have multiple effects on Brutus. They flatter him, by calling him strong, and they also point out that if Portia was good enough to be Brutus’s wife, then she is good enough to know his secrets.
Portia Stabs Herself
As a final attempt to show her husband that she would not tell anyone his secret, she proves herself by ‘Giving myself a voluntary wound / Here, in the thigh: can I bear that with patience, / And not my husband’s secrets?’ In other words, Portia wounded herself to show her physical strength and therefore, ability to handle mere information. Perhaps she is also showing that if she were captured, she could handle torture without spilling the beans.This does the trick, and Brutus agrees to tell her. Just as he agrees, they are interrupted by one of the assassins who wants to meet, and Brutus never gets the chance to tell his wife the truth.
After the men kill Caesar, war breaks out and Brutus heads off to battle.
Portia worries terribly about Brutus and the power Antony and Octavious are gaining. We learn from Brutus that she decides to take her own life. She does not stab herself or cut her wrists, but swallows hot coals. She does not simply escape her misery; she goes out in a blaze of agony. Even in death, Portia shows strength.
On the most basic level, Portia is Brutus’s wife and one of the two female characters in the play Julius Caesar. She is worried about her husband, as he seems distracted and cold. She also challenges stereotypes about women when she argues with Brutus that she should know his secrets.Her most daring move is when she stabs herself as a way of showing her husband that she would stay loyal to him no matter what.
When she speaks, Portia shows that she understands the reality of how women are viewed as weak. She does not let that stop her from behaving with determination and honor. She insists on being a part of Brutus’s life and when she cannot be with him in battle, she commits suicide in one of the most painful ways possible – by swallowing hot coals. Even though she only gets 16 chances to speak, Portia adds a fascinating dynamic to Julius Caesar.