Judith Shakespeare: a Tragedy and an Example In A Room of One's Own, Virgina Woolf concocts Judith, a hypothetical sibling of William Shakespeare, in order to illustrate the dismal prospects of a female writer. Judith Shakespeare is created for the purpose of showing readers the extreme inequities and stumbling blocks a woman would have to surmount in order to create literature. Both William and Judith are imagined as possessing equal amounts of raw talent. In terms of innate ability, both are equal poets. In childhood, William's talents were nurtured by his studies at school, while Judith, as a woman, was engaged in domestic duties. Where William had Ovid, Virgil, and Horace, Judith had "to mend the stocking... [and] mind the stew".
(AR, 47) Without schooling, and with her only literary experience coming from the chance perusal of one of her brother's cast off tomes, Judith's talent remains unrefined. While William was wandering Avon experiencing life, Judith is imagined as rotting in a scullery. Without experience of the world, how could anyone write Still, Judith would write, her gift would spur her to scribble, probably in some hidden loft or behind the barn. However, while her brother's sonnets would cross the ears of monarchs, Judith's work would remain hidden, or even worse, be destroyed by its author in fire. Judith's early years as a young woman would prove no better.
While William was seeking fame in London, Judith's hand becomes promised to "the son of a neighboring wool-stapler". (AR, 47) When Judith protests, crying out that the marriage is hateful to her, she receives a beating, and an admonition not to shame her parents. The desires of society and Judith's own desire to be a poet and a playwright clash with each other. Eventually her creative urges win.
Empowered by "the force of her gift", Judith steals away for London. (AR, 47) Judith attempts to follow the same path as her brother, because although she has not had William's education, she shares the same inclinations as her brother. However, she is cruelly turned away by the theater. She is told that a woman has no place on the stage.
What could she expect in a world where Juliet is played by a prepubescent boy She wanders until Nick Greene, an actor-manager, notices her, and then impregnates her. Unable to live in a world where she cannot express her poetic gift, Judith's sad life ends by her own hand. While William's bones are housed among other great men in Westminster Abbey, Judith's body lies, like any other suicide, "buried at some cross-roads where the omnibuses now stop outside the Elephant and Castle". (AR, 48) Had Judith been sent to school, had she not been forced to flee a horrible engagement, had she been able to act on the stage, imagine the works she could have created. Maybe, Woolf seems to say, that in Judith's literature, "Chloe [could have] liked Olivia". (AR, 82) Instead, literature must wait until the nineteen hundreds for Mary Carmichael to produce the flawed A Life's Adventure.
Had Judith been able to write, Woolf seems to say, women would now be able to tell their stories with much more skill. It seems that Woolf places value on Carmichael's work because it does something new, something unique. In it Chloe does like Oliva. But, it seems that as literature, Woolf does not feel that Life's Adventure belongs on the same shelf as William Shakespeare. Judith's work could have given women the first female writer who's work does not stand on its novelty, but rather on the skill of the writer. Woolf sees Judith's life as a tragedy because of the work Judith never produced.
Woolf imagines that it is one of the purposes of a writer to show the opposite sex the spot they have on the back of their head that can only be seen by another with a different vantage point. For centuries, men have shown women the spot on the back of their head. Woolf feels that men need to be told that they, too, have a spot they cannot see. Judith's story is tragic also because, the only reason Judith's brother, her equal, was more successful (successful at all) is only because of the advantage of that his sex gave him.
When William impregnates a woman before marriage, it is the impetus for going to London, for becoming an actor, indeed for fully realizing his gift. However, when Judith gets impregnated as an unmarried lady, it is the impetus for her lamentable end. Woolf's story of Judith clearly illustrates the situation of women and literature. The tragedy of Judith's life is lamentable because it is all caused because she is a woman. Her equal, William, is now known as the flower of English literature, while poor Judith becomes an unknown suicide.