In her essay “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf imagines that William Shakespeare had a sister named Judith. Woolf argues, however, that Judith Shakespeare would have had far fewer opportunities and encouragement to write than William was given, and she correctly suggests that Judith could never have become an actress, even though her brother had become an actor. Woolf imagines what would have happened if Judith (although as gifted as her brother) had shown up at a London theater, looking for work:
She had the quickest fancy, a gift like her brother's, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for the theatre. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said. Men laughed in her face. The manager--a fat, looselipped man--guffawed. He bellowed something about poodles dancing and women acting--no woman, he said, could possibly be an actress. He hinted--you can imagine what. She could get no training in her craft.
In her discussion of Judith Shakespeare, Woolf makes a number of assumptions, including the following:
- That girls were less likely than boys to be formally educated in Shakespeare’s society.
- That girls were less likely to do creative writing in Shakespeare’s society.
- That women in general had far less personal freedom than men in Shakespeare’s era.
- That women were far, far less likely to be playwrights than men in Shakespeare’s society.
- That women had almost no chances to be professional playwrights (that is, to earn their livings by writing plays) in Shakespeare’s time.
- That women were forbidden from acting on the public stages in Shakespeare’s London. Such acting would have been considered scandalous, especially by Puritan opponents who attacked acting even by men. They would never have tolerated acting by women.
All these assumptions are correct, and Woolf’s essay helps make clear the ways in which women in Shakespeare’s day were denied many opportunities afforded to men.