Study Guide

Judith Shakespeare in A Room of One's Own

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Judith Shakespeare

You remember Judith—Shakespeare's sister, with all of his talent and passion?

Oh, never heard of her? Maybe that's because she didn't received the stellar education that William did, and she had to make stew while William went off to the London theaters.

And the other reason you've never heard of her is because Virginia Woolf made her up.

Just a Small Town Girl

In Woolf's mind, Judith Shakespeare wants to read, write, and experience the world—just like her brother Will. But she's a woman, so she can't go to school, and her parents make her do dreary things like "mend the stockings or mind the stew" (3.7). She manages to do some reading and writing "up in an apple loft on the sly" (3.7), but it's not enough.

Eventually, her parents try to marry her off to a boring wool stapler who smells like sheep. But she has so much talent and energy that she can't bear to be tied to a husband and a passel of needy children. So, she runs away from home to seek her fortune in London. Naturally.

You guys, this does not end happily. She kills herself.

A little extreme? Maybe. Probably most women in Judith Shakespeare's circumstances just bit the bullet and went along with what their society and parents expected of them. But the point is that Judith is a rhetorical device to help Woolf make her point about, you know, why there are so few famous female writers.

So think of Judith less as a character and more as a kind of argument dressed in fiction. She's as much a tragic genius when she leaves for London as when she kills herself.

Finding herself pregnant, she kills herself, never having written a word.

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