How does Woolf argue against the assumption that "no woman can write the plays of Shakespeare" in A Room of One's Own?
In A Room of One's Own, Virgina Woolf agrees with a bishop who says that no woman could ever have written Shakespeare's plays but disagrees on the reason why. The bishop thinks no women could have written Shakespeare because they don't have the genius to do so. Woolf thinks no woman could have written Shakespeare because they would have been barred from doing so.
Though she says there is little known about women in Elizabethan times, she can imagine that their role was based entirely on being a housewife. Any achievements would be measured against the man that they married and the number of servants they had working for them. There was, as far as she knows, no women at that time writing poetry or plays.
To illustrate her point, she imagines that Shakespeare had a sister called Judith. Judith was every bit as gifted as her brother William, but while her brother was seeking his fame and fortune in the theaters of London, Judith was at home mending socks. She read her brother's books, but when she was caught she was told to stop wasting her time.
Eventually, after being forced into marriage, she escaped to London to find her own way as a writer and an actor. Everywhere she went she was laughed out of the door. There was no way in anyone's mind that a woman could ever be anything more than a housewife or servant. Unable to fulfill her desire to become a writer, she killed herself and was buried under Elephant and Castle:
That, more or less, is how the story would run, I think, if a woman in Shakespeare’s day had had Shakespeare’s genius.
It is, she continues, impossible to have a genius if you don't access to education:
For genius like Shakespeare’s is not born among labouring, uneducated, servile people. It was not born in England among the Saxons and the Britons. It is not born to-day among the working classes. How, then, could it have been born among women whose work began, according to Professor Trevelyan, almost before they were out of the nursery, who were forced to it by their parents and held to it by all the power of law and custom?