A Room of One's Own

by Virginia Woolf

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What is Woolf's response to the bishop's comments about women?

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In chapter 3, Woolf recalls a bishop who "once declared that it was impossible for any woman, past, present, or to come, to have the genius of Shakespeare." The bishop was so adamant in this opinion that "he wrote to the papers about it." Woolf responds, sarcastically, that "the borders of ignorance (must have) shrank back" at the approach of such bishops as this.

Woolf then concedes, as she looks at the works of Shakespeare, that the bishop may have been right, in as much as "it would have been impossible, completely and entirely, for any woman to have written the plays of Shakespeare in the age of Shakespeare." Woolf explains that this is not because, as the Bishop presumably supposed, women are intellectually inferior to men, but rather because men in Shakespeare's time were afforded many more rights and opportunities than were women. While Shakespeare was able to attend a grammar school, work in a theatre, "become a successful actor," and live "at the hub of the universe," a woman at the same time would have had to remain at home, with "no chance of learning grammar and logic" and certainly not with any of the other equal opportunities either.

Woolf thus turns the bishop's comments about women on their head: a woman could not have written the works of Shakespeare, she argues, not because women are intellectually inferior to men but because men have imposed so many limitations upon women. The implication is that she feels the bishop's opinions about women are ignorant and the product of centuries of entrenched, unquestioned sexism.

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