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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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CALPURNIA

Caesar's wife speaks only 26 lines, so we never get to know her very well.

There are at least two ways to view her-one of them more flattering than the other.

On one hand, she is undignified, nervous, and weak. She is also superstitious and haunted by unreasonable fears, and Caesar cannot be blamed for treating her like a child.

On the other hand, Calpurnia is a devoted wife-as concerned about Caesar's well-being as Portia is about Brutus'. True, she has strange dreams, but all of them come true. Perhaps in her intuitive, female way she is closer to the truth than Caesar.

Whichever way you view Calpurnia, you will have to admit that her relationship with Caesar is less than ideal.

Calpurnia's talk with Caesar follows closely on Portia's meeting with Brutus, as if Shakespeare were drawing attention to the differences between the two relationships.

Portia greets her husband with respect as "my lord" (Act II, Scene i, line 234). She may be flattering him to get what she wants, but she at least follows the forms of courtesy. Brutus is as concerned about her health as she is about his.

How does Calpurnia greet Caesar? With an order:

Think you to walk forth? You shall not stir out of your house today.

Act II, Scene i, lines 8-9

And Caesar replies:

Caesar shall forth.



Calpurnia is foolish enough to turn her request into a battle of wills. She makes the mistake of treating her husband in public as the mortal he is; and Caesar, to preserve his public image, has to take a stand against her.

Caesar, of course, has been equally tactless or unfeeling-announcing to all the world (Act I, Scene ii, lines 6-9) that his wife is sterile.

Can you blame a wife for treating her husband as a mortal and not as a god? The fact that she can see the man behind the mask points up her strength-or her weakness.

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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