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Virginia Woolf’s “Shakespeare’s Sister”

            While sifting through the textbook for the class, I found an article written by Virginia Woolf, “Thinking About Shakespeare’s Sister”. This article creates a world in which William Shakespeare had a sister who was as talented as he was; the article then explores her life and ultimate death. I was interested in the article because I am currently acting in a production of Hamlet and have acted in Romeo and Juliet as well; likewise I have read many other of Shakespeare’s plays as well through my various literature classes. In doing some brief background research I discovered that Shakespeare did have a sister in real life, although little is known about her life. This sister was also written about at a greater length in another of Virginia Woolf’s works. This article begins by explaining that although women in Shakespeare’s plays exhibit a wide variety of characters and “as great as man, some think even greater”, while the real women of Shakespeare’s times were locked away and beaten. The article then describes William Shakespeare’s life in comparison with that of his hypothetical sister; his sister is equally smart and adventurous, but she is constrained by society’s rules as she is a woman. She tries to write and act, but she is not accepted in either field; eventually she marries an actor named Nick Greene, a character in some of Woolf’s other writings, and eventually kills herself. She is buried in the middle of nowhere and in time her time is paved over by modern society. Woolf then goes on to describe the plight of women writer’s during Shakespeare’s time and afterwards. I thought Woolf’s narrative was interesting and sadly realistic; women during Elizabethan times had few rights and despite the woman characters in Shakespeare’s plays, women did not even play these roles as they were played by young boys instead. One point of contention that I have with the article is that near the conclusion to the work Woolf mentions that the “world of Keats and Flaubert” were “indifferent” and “hostile” toward women. While this is true Woolf fails to mention influential women of the time like women’s rights activist Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley the author of Frankenstein.


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