Shakespeare's Sister


Shakespeare's Sister

Full-Length Play, Drama  /  5w, 7m, 1girl(s), 1boy(s)

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

Shakespeare's Sister

  • Cast Size
    Cast Size
    5w, 7m, 1girl(s), 1boy(s)
  • Duration
    90 minutes
  • SubGenre
  • Audience
    Target Audience
    Appropriate for all audiences
Shakespeare's Sister



Judith Shakespeare has one ambition: to be a playwright. When her debt-ridden father forces her into an engagement, she runs away with the help of dashing actor Ned Alleyn, hoping to join her brother in London. But when Judith arrives in the plague-stricken capital, she finds her brother gone, Ned engaged to another, and her play refused.

Judith and the players confront poverty in the midst of economic depression, in a society where women’s freedoms are curtailed, under a government confronting religious extremism in a climate of fear. Judith must choose between succumbing to social pressures, and following her dream, no matter what the cost.

Shakespeare’s Sister was first performed as a staged reading at the Theatre Royal Haymarket as part of the Theatre Royal Haymarket Masterclass Trust’s “Pitch Your Play” scheme, supported by the Noël Coward Foundation and the Vernon Charitable Trust. It was revived as part of the Shakespeare 400 celebrations at King’s College London.

Shakespeare's Sister received a full amateur production at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts in London in October 2016, and received its international premiere in the Blackfriars Playhouse at the American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, Virginia, in February 2017.


Shakespeare's Sister dir. Jim Warren, the Actors' Renaissance Season, Blackfriars Playhouse, The American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, Virginia, 23 February - 7 April 2017.

Judith Shakespeare - 19, Judith is bright, talented, impetuous and intense.
Susannah Shakespeare - 9, Susannah is precocious and affectionate (can be doubled with Dorothy).
Hamnet Shakespeare - 6, Hamnet is sweet and naïve (can be doubled with Lucy).
Augustine Phillips (‘Phil’) - mid 20s, Phil is laddish, calculating and self-interested.
Edward Alleyn (‘Ned’) - 26, Ned is a charismatic and successful actor.
William Underhill - early 40s, William is steady, successful and well off. Warwickshire burr.
John Shakespeare - 50s, John is husband to Mary and father to Judith and Will; he is a handsome, popular, confident man gone to seed.
Mary Shakespeare - 50s, Mary is wife to John and mother to Judith and Will; she is an intelligent and affectionate woman, but poverty and loss of stability have worn her down.
Richard Burbage (‘Dick’) - early 20s, Richard is talented and engaging, but with a teenage rebelliousness. Cockney accent.
Will Shakespeare - 26, Will is ambitious and brilliant, but has not yet achieved the success or recognition he dreams of.
Phillip Henslowe (‘Henslowe’) - early 40s, Henslowe is a theatre manager, brothel owner, and impresario and a prosperous and canny man. Cockney accent.
Joan Henslowe - early 20s, Joan is Henslowe’s daughter; she is reserved and sharp, but passionate and protective. Cockney accent.
Lucy Morgan - late teens, Lucy is affectionate, vain, sweet and seems very young. Cockney accent.
Dorothy Clayton - early 30s, Dorothy is a cross-dressing woman with charisma and physical power. Cockney accent.
Sergeant - A self-important petty thug (can be doubled with John). Cockney accent.
Soldier 1 - Taciturn and violent (can be doubled with Egerton). Cockney accent.
Soldier 2 - A complacent bully (can be doubled with Henslowe)
Thomas Egerton (‘Egerton’) - 40s, Chivalrous, powerful, secret, a gentleman.
Jailor - Dutiful and compassionate (can be doubled with Ned). Cockney accent.

7M 5F with doubling

  • Time Period 16th Century / Elizabethan
  • Setting

    Elizabethan England (Stratford upon Avon/London)

  • Features Period Costumes
  • Duration 90 minutes



"'It's an excellent play, entertaining, well informed, thought-provoking and moving all at once. Emma is Woolf's daughter. Everyone should buy it and read it!" - Professor Helen Hackett, Professor of Shakespeare, UCL

'This thoughtful play... [is] well-crafted, good fun and would work well as student play... [Judith's] arrival in London and the disappointments she faces are dramatically both satisfying and disturbing. It deserves a full staging.' - Susan Elkin, 'Best books for theatre professionals', The Stage, 9 May 2016

'I can wholeheartedly say that Shakespeare’s Sister will be a play that will forever be a staple in the theater and the classroom.' - Austin Shay, '"Prostitute to the Pen": Emma Whipday's Opening Run of Her Play Shakespeare's Sister', The Paragon Journal, 10 April 2017


Shakespeare's Sister Takes a Bow at the Blackfriars
by Sandy Hausman, WVTF Public Radio
March 15, 2017


  • Emma Whipday Introduces Shakespeare's Sister in 60 Seconds youtube thumbnail

    Emma Whipday Introduces Shakespeare's Sister in 60 Seconds

  • Emma Whipday talks to Masterclass youtube thumbnail

    Emma Whipday talks to Masterclass

Licensing & Materials

  • Minimum Fee: £70 per performance plus VAT when applicable.


Available Formats:


Emma Whipday

Emma Whipday is a writer of books and plays. Her play Shakespeare's Sister (Samuel French, 2016) won the Theatre Royal Haymarket's Masterclass 'Pitch Your Play' Award in 2015, and received its international premiere at the American Shakespeare Center (ASC) in 2016. She has wr ...

View full profile

Now Playing