The way in which women were treated in Roman times is an interesting issue which arises in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. We can look at modern society to see what similarities or differences may exist between the two.
How has the treatment of women changed in certain parts of society? We all know that in western civilization the way that women are treated has been altered significantly, but this demographic isn’t the only society in which there has (or hasn’t) been developments in the way women are treated. How would the peoples of the past react if they were to see the treatment of women today and compare that to what they are accustomed to?
THE WIVES IN JULIUS CAESAR – PORTIA AND CALPHURNIA
In Julius Caesar, there were only few scenes in which women were represented – that in itself representing what was thought of women at the time. These were in Act 2 Scenes I and II, in which Caesar and Brutus are represented with their wives (Calphurnia and Portia) in a domestic setting (which is symbolic of the fact that most politicians of the time lead ‘double lives’). Because Shakespeare didn’t write this play as an account of history (in which it has been said – or at the very least implied, that wives did have some rights), rather the play was written most likely with the Orthodox priorities in mind (as the play would have been performed to Elizabethan England which held those priorities in high esteem) – largely based on The Elizabethan Homily on the State of Matrimony which was a decree which ordered wives to obey their Husbands, so the extent of a married woman’s freedom and welfare was largely dependent on their relationships with husbands and fathers, and the reason for this is that it was widely believed that ‘the woman is a frail vessel and thou art therefore made the ruler and head over her’. This is also a theme that can be found in historical papers - in Roman law a woman was even in historic times completely dependent. If married, she and her property passed into the power of her husband. The wife was the purchased property of her husband, and like a slave, acquired only for his benefit – and this is similar to what is decreed by The Elizabethan Homily on the State of Matrimony.
One example of this in the text studied is at the start of the second scene, with Caesar calling his wife’s name and issues his commands (note that he orders her around rather than asking her) ‘Stand you directly in Antonio’s way/ when he doth run his course’.
Infertility was blamed on the wife, not the man – an assumption that has been henceforth disproved due to advances in medical technology and research. This is supported in the text by the quote ‘For our elders say the barren, touched in this holy chase, shake off their sterile curse’ (Act I Scene II Lines 7-9). In this case Caesar’s words reflect a similar anxiety felt by the Elizabethans (which is most probably the double meaning that Shakespeare was trying to incorporate into this particular part of...