The title ‘Shakespeare Sister‘ refers to a section of Virginia Woolf’s (25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941) feminist essay ‘A Room of One’s Own”.
In A Room of One’s Own, Woolf imagines Shakespeare has a sister named Judith, through which Woolf develops a feminist argument that it is nurture, not nature, that keeps women down. Judith is as talented as her brother but lacks any opportunity to develop her gifts because her society confines women to the home and “ruins” women who transgress and try to leave.
More Notes: Shakespeare’s Sister
In A Room of One’s Own, Woolf rebelled against a common notion in the 1920s that women could not produce great literature. Woolf’s feminist argument is that it is nurture, not nature, that holds women back. To illustrate this point, she imagines Shakespeare having a talented sister named Judith. From the start, however, the playing field is tilted against her. She does not get the same educational opportunities that he does. And while marriage gives William a reason to go to London and write plays to make his fortune, a threatened marriage would constrain Judith to stay home, have babies, and tend the house.
More Notes: Adeline Virginia Woolf
Woolf imagines Judith sneaking off to London. Once there, she is not allowed to act and does not have the easy entrance into writer’s circles that her brother had. The theatre manager Nick Greene takes advantage of her and impregnates her. At that point, she is disgraced and ruined. There is no route for her to develop a writing career. Woolf’s vividly imagined portrait of Judith is persuasive.
Woolf’s point is that the female counterparts of Shakespeare never developed their talents because their society did not allow it. Woolf is at pains to show that Judith’s family is not cruel to her. In fact, they love her, but they expect her to live according to prevailing social norms.
In conclusion, “Shakespeare’s Sister” gives us a realistic picture of women’s oppression under male domination in sixteenth and seventeenth-century England. Thus, it can be considered a feminist polemic or a pioneering essay of the feminist movement.