Why Portia, Brutus, and Cassius?
Lets switch around some Shakespeare. Shall we?
In an ongoing effort to protect our families’ more sensitive information, particularly when it comes to our journey with autism, we have decided to start using cleverly selected pen-names. We have recently gone through a arduous and thorough “scrubbing” of our data to remove all traces of Cassius and Brutus’ real names, so we kindly ask that — those of you who know Cassius and Brutus’ identities, we ask that you kindly use the their pen-names.
Why choose Cassius as a your child’s alias?
The answer? Because my son picked it.
‘Wait,’ you say!
‘In Julius Caesar, Cassius is the bad guy, right?’ Well, grab your copy of Shakespeare for Dummies (it’s okay, I had to: no judgement here), and get ready to open your mind.
In Shakespeare, as in real life, there is no thing as a person that is all-bad, all the time. There are no real life heroes and villains — sometimes the hero is the villain, and the villain becomes the hero. Human behavior is unpredictable.
There are several ways that Cassius is the perfect pseudonym for my 12 year old autistic son. Cassius is dedicated, talented and smart. He is a talented leader, deliberately articulate, and compelling. A brilliant general and strategist, he is always ten steps ahead of every around him. He strongly plants his feet and knows where he stands — and he has no problem standing up for what he believes in. He is impulsive and holds no illusions to how politics, or life in general, works. He is constantly seeking answers and information, trying to determine if things are as they seem, and cautiously optimistic. He is passionate and — underneath it all — kind-hearted, self-sacrificing, and dedicated.
Possibly the significant characteristic of both Shakespeare’s Cassius and my own is their ability to perceive the true motives of others.
Caesar says of him, “He reads much; / He is a great observer and he looks / Quite through the deeds of men.
Another beautiful similarity between the two is their devotion to their friends. Never would you ever find a better friend, than my Cassius.
Why Brutus?Have you met my husband?
Audiences may find that, aside from Hamlet, the Marcus Brutus of Julius Caesar is Shakespeare’s most exasperating tragic character. We cannot but admire his finer qualities, “noble, wise, valiant, and honest,” as Mark Antony acknowledges, to which we might add decent, loyal, kind, and honorable. The poet’s tragic figures usually end up defeated by some flaw in character — Othello’s passion, Macbeth’s ambition, or Lear’s blind arrogance — but if there is flaw in Brutus, it can only be his inherent nobility. He falls not because of some error or frailty in his nature, but by the very quality that makes him most admirable, his unassailable virtue (Fallon, R., 2004).
I could not have described it better if I tried.
Brutus — both of them — are highly respected. There are so many great parallels in-between Marcus Brutus of Julius Caesar and my dear husband, but the most significant the incredible drive and fight that they both have to do what they believe to be right — no matter how difficult that choice might be. [My] Brutus is deliberate, thoughtful, and kind-hearted, truly admired by everyone who knows him.
Why Portia? Now lets change the play…
In Julius Caesar, Portia is a quiet mumble in the background, as Brutus’ wife, she is largely responsible for Brutus’ undoing when she commits suicide and breaks his heart.
I don’t so much like that version of Portia.* The whole dying thing — kind of puts me off.* I don’t really want to be Brutus’ undoing: so we are going to switch things up a little.*
So, for our families’ tragedy, we are going to switch out Brutus’ wife Portia with another Shakespearean character — by the same name. This version of Portia is stated as:
…An unlessoned girl, unschooled, unpractised,
Happy in this, she is not yet so old
But she may learn.”
In The Merchant of Venice, we see a strong, intelligent woman — who is cunning enough to outsmart everyone around her, but compassionate at lovely at the same time.
Like a smarter Scarlet O’Hara.*
Our first impression of Portia is that she is a confidently poised young woman who greets her many suitors with grace, dignity, and composure. And we are to discover that she is adventurous, resourceful, clever, and commanding; and far from “unlessoned” and “unschooled,” she is impressively learned. (Fallon, R., 2004).
In the play, her newlywed husband and his ‘friend’ [they were close enough to make her — a little jealous, at least], Antonio, get in a bind with — for lack of better words — a really nasty loan shark. To solve the issue, Portia devises a plan to cross-dress and pose as a lawyer (despite having no formal education in 16th century law, and despite being an ‘uneducated and unlearned school girl‘) to argue Antonio’s defense — and fools everyone in the process, including both Antonio and her husband, who apparently just had no idea just who exactly he married.*
Portia is not, then, an “unschooled” and “unlessoned girl,” and she modestly describes herself [to Bassanio]. She is rather a highly able and sophisticated young woman, who in a display of ingenuity and intelligence saves the life of an innocent man, orchestrates the indictment and merciful sentencing of his vengeful assailant, and “lessons” her husband on his marital obligations.
Portia is smart, strong, and compassionate. She’s clever, tough, and funny. And she’s witty.
I happen to like this version of Portia so much better.* She stands for what she believes in, and fights for those she loves — she fights smartly and with all her heart.
Will this change the story?
We all know that, in the end of Julius Caesar, everyone ended up falling on their own sword, or being murdered, — either literally or figuratively. I plan to change that — you know, being Portia [from The Merchant of Venice] and not Portia [from Julius Caesar].
This blog will document some, if not most, of our own story.
Let’s rewrite this classic.
Okay, all my literature-loving-friends, commence the onslaught of angry comments: “You can’t rewrite Shakespeare!”
To that I shrug and say:
All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.“*
Listen to many, speak to few.”*
Side-note: For your clarification “*” always indicates the use of sarcasm: and(just a heads up!) there will be a lot of it.*
Fallon, Robert T. 2004. A Theatergoer’s Guide to Shakespeare’s Characters: An Invaluable Companion to the Enduring People of his Plays. Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, 1332 North Halsted Street, Chicago, Il.