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Shakespeare's Sisters
Scholars' Insights

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Scholars' Insights

Margaret Cavendish. Plays, never before printed. London, 1668

Georgette de Montenay. Emblemes ou devises Chrestiennes. Frankfurt, 1619

Esther Inglis. Argumenta psalmorum Davidis. Manuscript, 1608.

What would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith, let us say ...


... it takes little skill in psychology to be sure that a highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered ... that she would have lost her health and sanity.


   – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own


Virginia Woolf' held a grim view of women's writing during the age of Shakespeare, in large part because she was entirely unaware of just how many women were writing. Woolf was aware of a few early women writers, but she had no idea how many women actually were writing, because many of their works circulated in manuscript and were never published. Among the women she read about were seventeenth-century diarist and historian Lady Anne Clifford, the women of the French Salons, and Mary Sidney and Mary Wroth. But others—women writing about love and heroic romances; women writing plays to be read and performed; women translating religious works—these she did not know of. As the exhibition explores the work of these women, from Mary Sidney and Laura Battiferri, and Louise Labé to Aphra Behn, it challenges Woolf ’s notion that women were unable to rise above their gender to create lasting works.


In recent decades, modern scholars have discovered or rediscovered many works that lay critically neglected for years. In the following pages, these scholars give their insights into the rich literary lives of the women who truly were Shakespeare's sisters.



Case 1: Lady Anne Clifford


Case 2: Elizabeth Cary


Case 3: Mary Sidney

               Esther Inglis

               Laura Battiferri


Case 4: Marguerite de Navarre


Case 5: Gaspara Stampa

                Louise Labé

                Lady Anne Southwell


Case 7: Lady Mary Wroth


Case 9: Women of the French Salons


Case 11: Katherine Philips

                  Margaret Cavendish


Case 12: Aphra Behn

                  Susanna Centlivre

                  Anne Finch


Case 13: Christine de Pisan


Take the Audio Tour

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