Thursday, April 11, 2013

Shakespeare's Sister

In reference to Virginia Woolf's if Shakespeare had a sister passage from her essay, A Room of One's Own...Woolf creates a character who was supposed to be Shakespeare's sister, who she names, Judith Shakespeare. Woolf's fictional story goes as follows: Woolf lets it be known that Judith has an obvious talent as a writer, but she is, of course, denied an education, especially an education like the one that her brother, William Shakespeare, receives. This is all because of her sex, the fact that she is a female. Judith's father tries to marry her off, but she does not want to go down that path just yet. Judith ends up running away to join a theatre company. Again, her sex denies her of an opportunity because the theatre company ultimately rejects her. Judith meets an actor-manager named Nick Greene who takes pity on her. She becomes pregnant with his child, but he leaves her and knowing what the circumstances for a single mother would be in those days, Judith commits suicide.

Seeing as to how I am a fan of The Smiths and, of course, the lead singer, Morrissey, I decided to check out the song "Shakespeare's Sister" by The Smiths. I thoroughly enjoyed the song, but couldn't find a connection to Woolf's passage aside from the title of the song at first. I did, however, come across an interview in which Morrissey explains the meaning behind the song. He says: "With 'Shakespeare's Sister' I tried to capture the voice of the downtrodden. In the history of literature, Shakespeare, of course, never had a sister, and in almost every aspect of art there's no female voice whatsoever...The song was really about shrugging off the shackles of depression and shedding the skins of one's parents and getting out and living and doing what one wants to do." After reading this, the lyrics made more sense to me. When Morrissey sings, 

"But I'm going to meet the one I love 
So please don't stand in my way
Because I'm going to meet the one I love
No, Mamma, let me go!"
With these lyrics, I feel like Morrissey is talking about someone following his/her passion and the one this person loves is not an actual person, but instead, is his/her dream, which in the case of Woolf's story would be Judith following her passion and love for writing and going to meet her "love" by joining and becoming a writer for a theatre company, which, she was, of course, rejected from and in the end was not able to grasp her "love" due to circumstances such as her sex. The part where Morrissey sings "No Mamma, let me go!" I feel is not literally referring to the person's mother, but is instead referring to the obstacles that stand in the person's way, although, a mother or parent can be seen as an obstacle. For Judith, her sex was her greatest obstacle and ultimate downfall.

In reality, William Shakespeare did have a sister, but her name was not Judith. Her name was Joan. Judith, in reality, was Shakespeare's daughter. In terms of Woolf's story, it is unknown whether her naming Shakespeare's sister in her fictional story Judith was a mistake or a deliberate conflation of the two women. I was wondering what you all think?

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