A Room of One's Own

by Virginia Woolf
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What does Woolf say about Shakespeare's sister in A Room of One's Own?

In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf tells the fictional story of Shakespeare's gifted sister, Judith, who was just as brilliant and talented as her brother yet had no opportunity to pursue her desires. Woolf imagines Judith being trained in women's work and then running off to London and eventually killing herself.

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In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf imagines a scenario in which Shakespeare had a sister named Judith who was just as gifted as Shakespeare himself. Yet poor Judith had no chance to attend school. She could not receive the education her brother was fortunate enough to obtain, yet her mind was sharp and quick, and perhaps she read her brother's books sometimes or wrote a bit here and there.

But then Judith's parents would set her to doing household tasks like sewing and cooking and tell her not to “moon about with books and papers.” Such was not her place. Her parents may have loved her (in fact, they likely loved her very much), but Judith needed to learn women's tasks.

While her brother went off to pursue his career as an actor and playwright and to enjoy the stimulation of London, Judith remained at home. Eventually her father arranged a marriage for her. When she resisted, he beat her. Then he begged her not to hurt and shame him. He offered her all kinds of gifts and told her she was breaking his heart by refusing the match.

Yet Judith could not stand the thought of marrying the son of a wool-stapler, so she ran away and went to London. She wanted to be an actress, yet no one would accept her. Women could not act, she was told, and people laughed at her. She could find no way to do what she believed she was destined to do, and eventually, in despair, she killed herself.

Judith Shakespeare never existed, of course, but Woolf presents her fictional story to make the point that even women who were brilliant had no opportunity to develop or pursue their gifts and talents, and this was a terrible tragedy.

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