The significance of the title Shakespeare’s Sister

Shakespeare’s Sister’ is a remarkable short story written by the English writer Adeline Virginia Woolf (25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941).

The title refers to a section of Virginia Woolf’s feminist essay, A Room of One’s Own, in which she argues that if William Shakespeare had had a sister of equal genius as a woman, she would not have had the opportunity to make use of it.

More Notes: Shakespeare’s Sister

To illustrate what might happen to a talented woman if she were to showcase her skills in the professional world, the author created a story about a fictional girl named Judith, who could be Shakespeare’s sister. In a straightforward yet poignant narrative, Wolfe describes Judith’s journey from childhood to professional life.  It is assumed that although Judith was not allowed to attend school, she was able to learn to read and write through her brother’s books. Finally, after reaching adulthood, when Judith is threatened with forced marriage, she flees to London in search of a career in the theatre.  But unfortunately, she fails to get any encouragement from the cruel professional world and is ridiculed at every step. She was humiliated to such an extent that she was forced to surrender her mind, body, and soul to the dirty intentions of the theatre manager.

More Notes: Adeline Virginia Woolf

In the given text, Woolf uses her fictional technique to describe Judith’s miserable life and thereby makes a comparison between her career and that of Shakespeare. At first, she explains all the factors that helped Shakespeare reach his highest peak of success. She describes Shakespeare’s early education, leaving his family for London to try his luck, his instant employment in the theatrical world, his ability to earn money for himself and become rich, etc. On the other hand, Judith is portrayed as a victim of a man-orientated society that deprived her of her proper education, discouraged her from reading and writing, allowed her no privacy, and gave her no opportunity to choose a career. 

Judith gives us a poignant picture of the pain and suffering of a woman deprived of her rightful rights and privileges in the Elizabethan world.  Virginia Woolf was able to establish the fact that genius depends on certain conditions, which are material and social. She states that Shakespeare is often presented as a pure genius who transcends all circumstances and surroundings. In contrast, Judith’s failure in life can be traced back to historical, social, and economic reality.

The author has very artistically crafted a story about the life and destiny of a budding artist of the Elizabethan era. Though The narrative is very poignant and touching, it gives a good account of what happened to such geniuses in that era. Potential female artists were wholly ignored and despised by men of authority.  Her prowess in creative activities was insulted for no reason.  She would be reprimanded for her ambitious ventures and often had to succumb to the sexual advances of the opposite sex.  The mental agony of the helpless woman and the despair caused by the social harassment was enough to break her mind.

Finally, we may assert that the title “Shakespeare’s Sister” is entirely justified because the author has presented Shakespeare’s sister as the central character in the essay. The entire plot is woven around this character.  Throughout the essay, the main point of reference is Judith’s description of her plight.

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

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

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