Virginia Woolf | Shakespeare’s Sister | An Analytical Study


Virginia Woolf | Shakespeare’s Sister | An Analytical Study

–Menonim Menonimus

Virginia Woolf | Shakespeare's Sister | An Analytical Study

Virginia Woolf | Shakespeare’s Sister | An Analytical Study

Virginia Woolf | Shakespeare’s Sister | An Analytical Study

Virginia Woolf | Shakespeare’s Sister | An Analytical Study: ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’, an essay by Virginia Woolf, has been taken from her book A Room of One’s Own (a collection of essays). In this essay, the author has explored the status of women in English society with special reference to the Elizabethan Age. Along with it, she puts forward the question of why no woman wrote a word of extraordinary literature when every other man was capable of writing a song or sonnets. In bringing about the truth of women’s status and position in society she has taken shelter in the writings of William Shakespeare, Jhonson,  Jane Austin, Joana Baille, Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, Robert Burns, Edward Fitzgerald, John Eliot, Geroge Sand, John Milton and some others. In doing so she has compared the data recorded in the fiction with that of the realistic data in Trevelyan’s History of England.

The author’s notion regarding the English women was disappointing. From her study, she had come to the definite conclusion that women were poorer than men through the ages. The characterization and portrayal of women in the plays of the Elizabethan age and the subsequent ages, as the author explored, were mere exaggeration of what was in reality. She found in Trevelyan’s History of England that beating of the wife was a recognized right of man, and was practised without shame. Historians wrote that the daughters of the bygone ages, especially during the Elizabethan and the subsequent ages were the victim of child marriage. The daughters who refused to marry,  their parents compelled them to be locked up and beaten. Then marriage was not an affair of personal affection, but of family avarice, particularly in the chivalrous upper classes. Betrothal often took place while one or both of the parties were in the cradle, and the marriage took place when they were scarcely out of the nurse’s charge. That practice was in circulation soon after Chaucer’s time. During the time of the Stuarts, it was still the exception for women of the upper class to choose their husbands and when the husband had been assigned to be the lord and master of his wife. It was a social custom. But there is a huge distinction between the portrayal of women in the plays of Shakespeare and in the memories of Verneys and Hutchinson. Shakespeare’s Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Rosalind, Cressida, Desdemona and other women characters were full of personality.  These women characters were portrayed as heroic, splendid, beautiful and as great as a man. Thus there is a visible contradiction between the portrayal of women in imaginative writings and factual history. In plays, women were depicted to be of the highest importance but in fact, they were treated as the most insignificant beings. Women were slaves to men. In the author’s view, the women were shown with an extraordinary gift of speech, intelligence, bravery and profoundness of thought but in real life, she could hardly spell a word revealing her inner thought and feeling.  Women were considered the property of their husbands and the husband would use them as they liked.

To vivify the status of women in the Elizabethan Age the author of the said essay makes an imaginative account of Shakespeares’ sister, though it is not known for certainty whether Shakespeare had a sister or not.

The author has given the name of Judith to Shakespeare’s imaginative sister. The author said that Shakespeare, being a boy child had got enough freedom to do whatever he liked whereas her sister could do nothing on her own. Shakespeare had enjoyed all the privileges of a boy child. He was sent to school where he probably learnt Latin and read Ovid, Virgil and Horace.  He was a wild boy and it was said that he once poached a rabbit and perhaps shot a deer but he could scot-free. He soon married a woman in the neighbourhood, who bore him a child rather quicker than he had.  That escapade sent him to seek his fortune in London. He had a taste for theatre and got a job in one. He became a successful actor, lived at the hub of the universe meeting everybody, knowing everything, practising his art on the board,  exercising his wits in the streets and perhaps got access to the Queen. On the other hand, his sister, Judith who might have the same extraordinary gift remained at home as the author imagined. She was as adventurous, as imaginative and agog to see the world as Shakespeare was.  But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar nor was she given the opportunity to read Ovid, Vigil and Horace.  She might pick up a book but at that moment her father told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew. Perhaps she scribbled some pages in an apple loft but was careful to hide them from others.  However she was out of her teens, she was betrothed to a son of a neighbouring wool-stapler. She cried out that marriage was hateful to her, and for that, she was severely beaten by her father. Then he ceased to scold her. He begged her instead not to hurt him, not to shame him in the matter of her marriage.  He would give her a chain of beads or a fine petticoat. Eventually, she would agree to get married.

Again the author imagined that if she got the same chance and freedom as was got by her brother Shakespeare then she would take the road to London before she was seventeen. She had a gift of the singing song more melodious than the birds. She had the quickest fancy, a gift like her brother’s.  She had a taste for the theatre too. The authors imagined more that she stood at the theatre door and wanted to act. Then people would laugh at her.  The manager might guffaw and would say that no woman can be an actress.  She could get no training in her craft.  She could have found no chance to go to a tavern for dinner.  She might have a genius for fiction and lusted to feed abundantly upon the lives of men and women and the study of their ways. The authoress fancied that at last the manager of the theatre party would have taken pity on her and thus he would found herself with a child by him. At last, she would have to wipe away her stigma of bearing a child out of marriage by killing herself and people would bury her at some crossroads.   

The author concludes his essay with an optimistic tone that in her days or in the days to come women like Judith would be given the same freedom as is given to men. Women would be considered equals to men. Virginia’s vision of women like Judith is that an opportunity would come to women when the dead poet like Shakespeare’s sister would have their gift operated. Then women would write a song and plays like men.

Thus the hypothetical Shakespeare’s sister assumed the value of life in the imaginative reconstruction of  Virginia Woolf. 0 0 0 Shakespeare’s Sister

Virginia Woolf | Shakespeare’s Sister | An Analytical Study 

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Shakespeare’s Sister

N. B. This article entitled ‘Virginia Woolf | Shakespeare’s Sister | An Analytical Study‘  originally belongs to the book ‘World Essay Criticism‘ by Menonim Menonimus. Virginia Woolf | Shakespeare’s Sister | An Analytical Study 

Books of Literary Criticism by M. Menonimus:

  1. World Short Story Criticism
  2. World Poetry Criticism
  3. World Drama Criticism
  4. World Novel Criticism
  5. World Essay Criticism
  6. Indian English Poetry Criticism
  7. Indian English Poets and Poetry Chief Features
  8. Emily Dickinson’s Poetry-A Thematic Study
  9. Walt Whitman’s Poetry-A Thematic Study
  10. Critical Essays on English Poetry
  11. Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Novel: Return of the Spirit-An Analytical Study
  12. Tawfiq al-Hakim’s Novel: ‘Yawmiyyat Naib Fil Arayaf’-An Analytical Study
  13. Analytical Studies of Some Arabic Short Stories
  14. A Brief History of Arabic Literature: Pre-Islamic Period
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I am Menonim Menonimus, a Philosopher & Writer.


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