Calpurnia in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: Character Traits & Analysis

Calpurnia in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: Character Traits & Analysis
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  • 0:02 Julius Caesar
  • 2:40 Who Is Calpurnia?
  • 4:06 Analysis
  • 6:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Edward Zipperer

Eddie has an MFA in English from Georgia College where he has taught scriptwriting, English 101, English 102, and World Literature since 2007.

This lesson provides a brief summary of Shakespeare's tragedy ''Julius Caesar'' and examines the role of Caesar's wife, Calpurnia. Her role in the play is small, but it adds a great deal of complexity and emotion to the story.

What Happens in 'Julius Caesar'?

In the final century B.C., the gigantic Roman empire stretched across most of modern day Europe and even into the northern parts of Africa. It was a republic ruled by senators and the great war general Julius Caesar.

In Shakespeare's tragedy based on Caesar's life and death, the general is loved by the multitudes. But the jealous senator Cassius believes that Caesar should be killed for the good of Rome. Several senators join together in a conspiracy to kill Caesar. The two most important conspirators are Cassius and Marcus Brutus (called Brutus in the play).

Cassius is the one who enlists Brutus, and these two characters act as foils to each other. Cassius' motives are impure. He shows a great deal of jealousy, and he uses manipulation. Brutus, on the other hand, has noble motives and truly believes that he is doing what is best for Rome. He does not hate Caesar as Cassius seems to.

A soothsayer warns Caesar to 'beware the Ides of March' (March 15). But Caesar ignores the warning. Caesar's wife Calpurnia has an even more specific and portentous dream, and she too tries to warn Caesar not to go to the Capitol on the Ides of March. Finally, moments before the assassination, Artemidorus tries to warn Caesar. But, ignoring all three warnings, Caesar shows up at the Capitol and is murdered by the conspirators. He is most surprised by Brutus' betrayal. He famously utters, 'Et tu, Brute' and then dies.

At Caesar's funeral, Brutus makes a speech that seems to sway the crowd of Romans into believing that the conspirators did what they must -- that their assassination of Caesar was noble. However, Caesar's friend Marc Antony is allowed to speak after Brutus, and Antony makes an impassioned speech which turns the crowd against the conspirators.

Brutus and Cassius are driven out of town and raise armies. Meanwhile, Marc Antony, Lepidus, and Octavius Caesar come to power in Rome and they lead their own army to track down Brutus and Cassius.

Cassius and Brutus eventually commit suicide. Marc Antony comments on how Brutus differed from the other conspirators who were involved in Caesar's death. He says of him:

This was the noblest Roman of them all:

All the conspirators save only he

Did that they did in envy of great Caesar…

Who is Calpurnia?

Calpurnia plays a small but vital role in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. She is Caesar's wife and plays a major role in only one scene. She has had a dream that she saw Caesar's statue 'which like a fountain with an hundred spouts did run pure blood; and many lusty Romans came smiling and did bathe their hands in it.'

Calpurnia begs Caesar to stay home and not go to the Capitol. After all, it is the Ides of March which the soothsayer had warned Caesar about. But Caesar, displaying his bravery, insists that he will go. He will not be a coward. He tells her, 'Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.'

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