What jobs were available to women in Shakespeare's time?

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kateanswers eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Shakespeare lived and wrote during the Elizabethan Era, a period of time named for the most important woman with a job in England at the time — Queen Elizabeth I. Though she did not "choose" her occupation as the monarch, Elizabeth certainly had far more personal agency and freedom of choice than most English women. The majority of women in Shakespeare's time were limited to the roles of wife and mother. Of course, if a woman married a man who owned a business, she would likely fulfill some of the responsibilities necessary to this business. A fishmonger's wife might help clean and sell fish in addition to running the home. Similarly, a farmer's wife had no choice but to perform farm work because it was her family's livelihood. 

Upper-class women might have received a private education, but were still expected to be obedient wives, dutiful mothers, and efficient ladies of the house. Because women were made to be so dependent upon male family members, people were often suspicious of single women. A single woman might be able to find work as a cook or domestic servant, but outside of these traditionally feminine roles, an unmarried woman was suspected of being a witch or sex worker. Of course, some women did work in the sex industry, and others may very well have sold herbal remedies in addition to midwifery duties. Life for these women would not have been easy.