Why would it have been impossible for a woman to write Shakespeare's plays according to Virginia Woolf in A Room of One's Own?

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Virginia Woolf convincingly demonstrates that it was impossible—not merely that it would have been impossible—for any woman to write plays like those that William Shakespeare wrote. As she insightfully but humorously presents the numerous obstacles that kept women from writing, Woolf encourages the reader to re-think not only the concept...

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Virginia Woolf convincingly demonstrates that it was impossible—not merely that it would have been impossible—for any woman to write plays like those that William Shakespeare wrote. As she insightfully but humorously presents the numerous obstacles that kept women from writing, Woolf encourages the reader to re-think not only the concept of “genius”—which is so often applied to Shakespeare—but also of the numerous different occupations that the young man had; these included actor and manager as well as writer.

Woolf elaborates the social circumstances in which even upper-class girls lived in sixteenth-century England. She explains that they were expected to stay at home and learn arts and skills appropriate to females and were discouraged from reading (except possibly the Bible) and writing. She points to the double standard that allowed William to marry and leave his wife and children in Stratford while he journeyed to London and became an actor. Although a woman was likely to marry and have children, she was expected to stay with them. Women were not actors; instead, men played the female parts, so theatrical troupes had no places available for women. Even if a young woman had left her hometown and gone to London expecting to find a theatrical career, there was no position waiting for her. As Woolf notes, the likely scenario was that such a woman would become a man’s lover or mistress and become pregnant. While her imaginary Judith Shakespeare takes her own life, there were many real women who continued to live in disgrace and poverty.

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In this section of her brilliant essay, Woolf shows why it would have been impossible for a woman to write Shakespeare's works by imagining that Shakespeare had a very talented sister called Judith. By creating this imaginary sister and comparing the kind of life and opportunities that both she and William would have had, Woolf presents a compelling case at how women were and are impoverished by society. Note some of her arguments:

But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now and then, one of her brother's perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers.

Although she would have "scribbled" occasionally, she had to hide her writings in case her parents burned them. Then she is forced or blackmailed emotionally into marrying someone who is not her intellectual equal. Even when she flees this situation to pursue her dream of acting, she is not given any opportunity to do so, and is seduced and, finding herself pregnant, kills herself and dies frustrated and unsatisfied. Throughout this section of the essay, the emphasis is on the lack of opportunities that women have compared to men in every sense of the word.

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