Character Analysis: Judith Shakespeare

2126 words - 9 pages

Modernist English novelist Virginia Woolf's 1928 book length essay “A Room of One's Own” began as a series of lectures at a couple women's colleges in Cambridge on the subject of women in fiction and the social and economic binds that kept women from easily writing and achieving the success held by man in the literary field. In the text, she speaks of famous authors such as Jane Austen, the Brontes, and George Eliot, and urges the young women in the audience to seek out a private space, a literal room of their own, where they will have the freedom to write. In one section of her essay, Woolf creates the figure of Judith Shakespeare in a well known section often referred to simply as “Shakespeare's Sister”. In this segment, Woolf takes a step back from analyzing historical figures and instead creates a rhetorical situation in which the fictional Judith stands as example to the young women in the audience of the hardships and hindrances of women writers that she is urging them the overcome. However, while Virginia Woolf's essay is still renowned today, and “Shakespeare's Sister” is widely studied in the realms of feminist theory, her intentions for the impact of her rhetorical example, particularly at the time, fell short do to her basis upon her own situated ethos.
In “Shakespeare's Sister”, Woolf births the female counterpoint of the bard. Judith is his equal in every way except for gender and the implications of that difference. While he ventures out into the world to learn and create, she remains at home darning socks. While his works won him “access to the palace of the queen”, her writing was never seen “scribbled... in an apple loft on the sly” and “set fire to soon after” (Woolf). When William went to London, it was with the support of his parents; when Judith left, she had to run away in the night. While he found fame on the london stage, she found herself unemployable and with child from the only man willing to “help” her. And while William Shakespeare lived forever through his beloved words, Judith Shakespeare killed herself and lies forgotten “buried at some crossroad” (Woolf). When Woolf told this story to lecture halls full of young upper-middle class women on the Cambridge campus, her intentions were clear. She wanted her audience to identify with the young character of Judith, to be outraged at the inequality and hardships faced by women past, grateful for the opportunities at their fingertips in the halls of learning, and driven to become writers themselves, to pave the way for future female writers.
Identification is one of Woolf's strongest tools; she knows that if the audience identifies with Judith from the beginning, then they will be more greatly effected by the rhetorical example, regardless of the centuries between the two. She builds her character up as one of the young women before her, “as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world” (Woolf). She describes Judith not as been the cinderella figure...

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