Portia defines herself in relation to her husband and father; she’s the wife of Brutus, and the daughter of Cato, a Roman statesman. In the handful of scenes in which she appears, Portia distances herself from womanhood, aligning herself with the gender conventions of the time and positioning herself as strong-willed in spite of what she and the other characters perceive as a weakness: “Think you I am no stronger than my sex, / Being so fathered and so husbanded?”

Like Caesar’s wife Calpurnia, Portia’s character reflects the disparity between public and private life. She serves as a symbol of correct intuition and morality, and her conversation with Brutus offers the audience a view of Brutus’s lingering doubts about the plan to assassinate Caesar. Though she and Calpurnia occupy similar roles, Portia also serves as a foil to Calpurnia. Where Calpurnia appeals to Caesar with dreams and omens, Portia argues her case with logic, recognizing this as the tactic most likely to convince Brutus to confide in her. Brutus disregards the “sick offense” Portia identifies within him, however, and the events that follow ultimately lead to her suicide.

The strange manner in which news of her death is delivered has been much debated. Brutus appears to learn of her death twice, which some critics argue is the result of a revision by Shakespeare. Another reading, however, supports the idea that this is yet another comment on public versus private life. Brutus admits when he’s alone with Cassius that the loss of his wife has left him full of sorrow. With his officers, however, he epitomizes the Stoicism for which he is well known: “With meditating that she must die once, / I have the patience to endure it now.” Regardless, the death of Portia is a grim reflection of Brutus’s renunciation of his private life, and illustrates the consequences thereof.