Jennifer has taught high school English for eight years and has a master's degree in curriculum and assessment.
Devotion is Blind
We see the motif of the devoted wife in many of our popular movies and television shows. Look at Carmela Soprano in the television series, The Sopranos. She remains married to her husband, Tony, even though she knows that he has extramarital affairs and runs the mafia. She still helps him launder their money and hides his crime from their neighbors and the police. She is the devoted wife, despite his flaws.
In William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, we meet the devoted wife of Brutus, named Portia, who demonstrates her dedication to her husband by anxiously supporting him in his traitorous endeavors. Let's see what happens in Act II, Scene 4.
In the beginning of the play, we see that Rome is in a state of chaos, and many of the senators are concerned about Julius Caesar, Rome's new king. After Caesar falls down in a fit of epilepsy at his coronation, Cassius and a group of senators take it as a bad sign and begin a conspiracy to take the throne from Caesar.
Cassius is determined to bring Brutus in on it. Brutus does fear that Caesar will become a tyrant with his recent crowning and agrees to participate in the killing of Caesar but tells his co-conspirators that Mark Antony should be spared.
Brutus' wife, Portia, has noticed that he is behaving strangely and asks him to tell her what is happening. He agrees to, but never gets the chance to speak with her.
Portia is Anxious for Brutus
Act II, Scene 4 begins with Portia speaking to Brutus' servant, Lucius. She asks Lucius to go to the Capitol to see how Brutus looks and what Caesar is doing. Portia suspects that Brutus has a plan for the day, but she does not know what it is. She struggles to keep her secret: 'O constancy, be strong upon my side, set a huge mountain 'tween my heart and tongue! I have a man's mind but a woman's might. How hard it is for women to keep counsel!' She is afraid that she will give away her husband's intentions because she is a woman.
Portia is anxious for her husband and begins to hear noises coming from the capitol that Lucius cannot hear. She says, 'Prithee, listen well. I heard a bustling rumor like a fray, and the wind brings it from the Capitol.' Can you relate to this nervous state? Sometimes, if something gives us anxiety, we tend to manifest it in our mind. For example, if we run a red light by accident, we might think we see flashing lights in the rear view mirror, or hear sirens from a police officer.
A Soothsayer Enters
As Portia is speaking to Lucius, a soothsayer, a sort of fortune teller, enters. Portia asks him if Caesar has gone to the capitol building yet. The soothsayer replies that he has not and that he intends on watching him go there so that he can speak with him.
Portia asks if there is any danger for Caesar, and the soothsayer says that he does not know of any, but he worries about the crowd on the narrow street: 'None that I know will be; much that I fear may chance. Good morrow to you. Here the street is narrow. The throng that follows Caesar at the heels, of senators, of praetors, common suitors, will crowd a feeble man almost to death.' The soothsayer leaves Portia alone with her thoughts so that he can try and speak to Caesar before he enters the capitol.
Portia Sends Lucius to the Capitol
Portia is left with Lucius and starts talking to herself: 'Ay me, how weak a thing the heart of woman is! O Brutus, the heavens speed thee in thine enterprise!' She is commenting on the anxiety she is feeling, especially with the new knowledge that the soothsayer may succeed in warning Caesar of his impending death.
She is supportive of her husband, no matter what he plans to do. She lies to Lucius by telling him that Brutus has a claim that Caesar will not grant; she lies because she fears that Lucius has heard her talking to herself and will suspect the crime that is about to be committed by Brutus and the other conspirators. It was typical for senators to bring claims to the capitol for the king to grant. Her lie makes it seem like she is anxious about her husband's day at work, while we really know that she is anxious that he will commit a crime of treason. She tells Lucius to hurry to the capitol building and report back to her.
Act II, Scene 4 of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar adds to the heightened suspense preceding the death of Julius Caesar. Caesar's previous epileptic fit make the conspirators think it is a sign that he will not be a good ruler, and they convince Brutus to join them in their plot. Portia, Brutus's wife, knows that he is involved in a plan for Caesar, but does not know the details of the plan. She thinks she hears violent noises coming from the building, but it is only her paranoia. A soothsayer (fortune teller) enters and expresses his desire to warn Caesar, though he doesn't know for certain Caesar's fate. This adds to Portia's stress. She anxiously sends their servant, Lucius, to the capitol building so that he can report the happenings there.
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