Shakespeare’s Sister Summary and Ket facts 

Key facts 

Text’s name: Shakespeare’s Sister 

Writer: Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), short story writer, feminist, sociologist, and literary critic.

Date of Publication: 1928

Genre: Feminist Essay, Persuasive essay

Themes: Feminism, man domination, Self identify Crisis, Education, and Literature.

Tone: Melancholic tone

Literary Devices: Simile, Metaphor, Pathos, Antithesis 


Women were so neglected in the field of literary creation that women did not have the opportunity to enter the literary world as writers until the time of Virginia Woolf. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) addressed this plight of women by inventing a story about an imaginary sister of Shakespeare. This sister’s name was Judith (Originally, Shakespeare’s daughter’s name is Judith). Virginia Woolf is a short story writer, feminist, sociologist, and literary critic. Shakespeare’s Sister is a persuasive essay. And here, not only in writing literature, but also in social, political, economic, and psychological aspects, how women were left behind.

So, Shakespeare’s Sister, this fictional essay mainly focuses on 2 things.

1. Although men were so advanced in the Elizabethan era, why did women lag behind in literature?

2. Shakespeare’s sister’s story is told by creating a fictional sister. (Creation of a fictional character shows what would have happened if Shakespeare had a sister)

1. Although men were so advanced in the Elizabethan era, why did women lag behind in literature?

Position of the men

Virginia Woolf has shown that in the Elizabethan era, men were at the forefront of literary writing. The man who has never written literature in their life have written at least one poem in their lifetime. Many famous writers ruled literature during the Elizabethan era. But they were all men. Why is there no women’s literature in the Elizabethan era? Didn’t they write any literature?

To know the answer to this, we need to know the familial, social, political, economic, and literary position of women in the Elizabethan era.

Position of women

Queen Elizabeth herself ruled the whole of England even though she was a woman. And she was a patron of literature. That is why her period is recognized as the golden age of English literature. But even though Queen Elizabeth was a woman, she did nothing for the advancement of women in society. Rather, male writers dominated everywhere. Again, in terms of position, women are shown at a lower level.

1. God

2. Man

3. Woman

Position of women in literature

Women were highly glorified in literature during the Elizabethan era by male writers. They are shown as very intelligent, and protagonists in literature. But none of their literary works were given prominence then. So they published literature with mans’ pseudonyms. George Eliot, Robert Galbraith, the Bronte sisters, Currer Bell, etc. They had a great interest in writing literature. But first of all, they are barred from family. If anyone wrote any literature, she was criticized very badly by male writers. Worst criticized, Oscar Browning. He said, “The most intelligent of women is inferior to the least intelligent of men”. That is, the point is that women are shown high in literature, but the position of women in society was very low. A writer who glorifies women in his writings dominates and devalues women in real life.

Position of women in the family

At that time the position of women in the family was very fragile. Male members of the family were sent to school but womens were fooled and kept at home. They were not allowed to read any books except the royal family. They were even given in marriage at a very young age. Even then, if a woman went outside the family’s decision and started studying literature, she would have no place in the house. This essay shows the poor position of women in the family, through Shakespeare’s Imaginary Sister. If Shakespeare had a sister, how would she be? Could she be a writer like Shakespeare? Could she study like Shakespeare? Did she get freedom like Shakespeare? No, never? That is, here all the women of the Elizabethan era are presented as Shakespeare’s sisters.

Position of women in society

women were highly neglected in Elizabethan society. They were harassed in various ways. Their writings were not read. Hence many of their literary works remain unpublished. which have been lost in the evolution of time. That is, even if a woman wrote any literature, she knew that it would never be well received by society. It will never be revealed. So a woman’s literary work in the Elizabethan era was limited to her diary. Again, the people of the society used to make bad gestures toward them. Critics interpreted them as the lowest class of creatures. This would make women lose interest in writing.

Position of women in politics

Queen Elizabeth herself was a powerful ruler during the Elizabethan era. But no other woman came to state power. They have no place in important positions in the state. Everyone was under house arrest. The entire state was an open prison for women. Literature has shown women in various political positions and important positions of state. But in society, it was completely opposite. There was no empowerment of women.

The economic status of women

At that time, the economic position of women was very dire. If the men wanted, they would earn money by writing various literary works. If they were upset, they could go to different places. He could gain experience by seeing many things. But women did not have that opportunity. If their literature was badly criticized and they were upset, they could not go anywhere. They had no opportunity for employment and trade. However, if one went to work in the theater, she would have to face various forms of physical harassment. Shakespeare’s Sister depicts Shakespeare’s fictional sister, who becomes pregnant by a theater manager and eventually commits suicide.

2. Shakespeare’s sister’s story is told by creating a fictional sister. (Creation of a fictional character shows what would have happened if Shakespeare had a sister?)

This sister was born with the same talent as her brother. But she was not allowed by her parents to attend grammar school with her brother or read the poetry of Ovid, Virgil and Horace. When she read a few books from her brother’s library, her parents asked her to mend stockings or mind stew and forbade her to rummage through books and papers.

She probably wrote some pages of literary works while sitting in the loft. Then she hid them. And she was careful not to catch fire in them. She was to be betrothed to a neighboring wool stapler before she passed adolescence. They threatened to send her to a nunnery (to be a church nun) if she objected. But the strength of her literary talent prompted her to run away from home. One summer night she was walking through the streets of London. She was only seventeen and had a voice like a songbird. Like her brother, she was gifted with lyricism (writing beautiful poetry) and theater.

She stood at the door of various theaters and said that she wanted to act. The men laughed at her. A theater manager, Nick Green, laughed at such interest in her performance and said that a woman’s performance would be like a puppet dancing. But Nick Green felt sorry for her because she was young. Actually, he waited for an opportunity and got Judith pregnant. Then Judith commits suicide in shame.

Finally some words:

The sixteenth-century society in which Shakespeare lived was unfriendly, even hostile to women’s literary ambitions. All the forces of law and custom conspired to suppress the genius of women at that time. Women did not have the right of education then. So Jane Austen, a woman writer, was fired the arrows of criticism. A highly gifted girl, who tried to show her talent for poetry, was thwarted.

This essay is considered a feminist essay. Virginia Woolf was one of the first women writers to address women’s issues in literature. Society stifled women in literature and life with many restrictions. If Shakespeare had a sister with the same originality and adventurous spirit, her parents and society would have silenced her. She was laughed at when she left the house to enter the theater world. The lives of Jane Austen, George Eliot, and the Brontë sisters reveal this. Literature had to be published under a man’s pseudonym. Even when a woman. (Shakespeare’s fictional sister Judith) challenged this status quo, it cost her life. So finally, Virginia Woolf said, a writer needs full freedom to express her talent.

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

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