In "A Room of One's Own," Virginia Woolf imagines that William Shakespeare had an equally gifted sister, Judith, who had none of the opportunities open to him. She did not go to the local grammar school and study Latin, nor did she go to London and become a...
playwright. Woolf uses this story to illustrate the idea that, where women have achieved less than men, this has been a product of circumstances, not a lack of intellect or talent. She observes:
any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at.
At the end of "A Room of One's Own," Woolf returns to this image of Shakespeare's sister to illustrate her purpose. The time is coming, she says, when women who write will not labor under such tremendous disadvantages as they have throughout history. Women must seize the opportunity this offers and work actively to increase and exploit it. If they can do so:
then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare's sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down. Drawing her life from the lives of the unknown who were her forerunners, as her brother did before her, she will be born.
At the beginning of the essay, Woolf seems merely to be describing the difficulties that have faced women writers, principally the lack of money and a room of their own. By the end, however, her purpose has become clear: she wants to make it possible for a woman to equal, even to surpass the literary achievement of Shakespeare.