A Room of One's Own

by Virginia Woolf

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What opportunities would Judith Shakespeare have had? How does Woolf address women's creativity in A Room of One's Own?

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In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf speculates what it might have been like if Shakespeare had an “extraordinarily gifted sister” named Judith. She sets up the scenario by explaining that Judith is perhaps even more talented than her brother but has far fewer opportunities to pursue her talent. In fact, she has no opportunities at all. She cannot get an education and must do the best she can by reading her brother's books, but her parents make her focus on the work of a woman instead, like cooking and sewing.

Judith's parents then decide that she will marry the son of a wool-stapler, but Judith wants nothing to do with that. Her father beats and scolds her and then shames her about disobeying him. Judith runs away from home and heads to London, where her brother is, but she cannot enter into the theater, either as a writer or an actress. Women simply don't do that. People laugh at her and scorn her. She has no chance to practice her craft, no opportunity to grow or develop as a person. There is simply no place for her, and Judith kills herself.

With this story, Woolf is exploring the question of the suppression of women's creativity, the reasons for it, and the results of it. Women are creative. They do have talent. They can learn and teach, create great works of art and literature. But for many centuries, they have often not had the opportunity to do so. Like Shakespeare's fictional sister, they have been relegated to a narrow sphere of life, denied education and the opportunity to explore and grow in their talents, and this is nothing less than a tragedy.

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