Shakespeare's Sisters: How Women Wrote the Renaissance (Hardcover)

Shakespeare's Sisters: How Women Wrote the Renaissance By Ramie Targoff Cover Image
Usually Ships in 1-5 Days


This remarkable work about women writers in the English Renaissance explodes our notion of the Shakespearean period by drawing us into the lives of four women who were committed to their craft long before anyone ever imagined the possibility of “a room of one’s own.”

In an innovative and engaging narrative of everyday life in Shakespeare’s England, Ramie Targoff carries us from the sumptuous coronation of Queen Elizabeth in the mid-sixteenth century into the private lives of four women writers working at a time when women were legally the property of men. Some readers may have heard of Mary Sidney, accomplished poet and sister of the famous Sir Philip Sidney, but few will have heard of Aemilia Lanyer, the first woman in the seventeenth century to publish a book of original poetry, which offered a feminist take on the crucifixion, or Elizabeth Cary, who published the first original play by a woman, about the plight of the Jewish princess Mariam. Then there was Anne Clifford, a lifelong diarist who fought for decades against a patriarchy that tried to rob her of her land in one of England’s most infamous inheritance battles.

These women had husbands and children to care for and little support for their art, yet against all odds they defined themselves as writers, finding rooms of their own where doors had been shut for centuries. Targoff flings those doors open, revealing the treasures left by these extraordinary women; in the process, she helps us see the Renaissance in a fresh light, creating a richer understanding of history and offering a much-needed female perspective on life in Shakespeare’s day.

About the Author

RAMIE TARGOFF is the Jehuda Reinharz Professor of the Humanities, professor of English, and co-chair of Italian Studies at Brandeis University. She holds a B.A. from Yale University and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author, most recently, of Renaissance Woman, a biography of Vittoria Colonna, and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives with her family in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Praise For…

“[A] fascinating excavation of four intellectual powerhouse women of the 16th and early 17th centuries . . . Targoff’s intent is to scrape away the layer of literary obscurity from Shakespeare’s sisters and present the pentimento as transcendent survivors. Their work indeed lives on.” —Tina Brown, The New York Times Book Review (cover review)

"Targoff [uncovers] brilliance. . . . These little known female voices widen our lens onto a past we thought we knew." The Wall Street Journal

“Elegantly readable, immaculately researched . . . Lucid and detailed, it's the best kind of literary-historical writing: a page-turner with no trace of lazy fictionalising. And it tells a story of real importance.” The Spectator

“Striking . . . Targoff’s style is lively and accessible; assuming a curious general reader, she offers a succinct overview of the complex political and religious backdrop to these women’s lives . . . Shakespeare’s Sisters is a valuable addition to our understanding not only of women’s writing at the turn of the 17th century, but of their lives.” The Guardian

“[An] intimate series of portraits, set against the rich background of Renaissance England . . . Pulsing with juicy biographical details, Shakespeare’s Sisters has its page-turning moments, with more twists than any contemporary television show. Targoff enthusiastically corrects history’s misogyny and casts her subjects in the starring roles that they always deserved.” The American Scholar

“Targoff brings a historian’s scope and a critic’s eye to her subject, and manages to make the result both enlightening and pleasurable.” —The New York Times

“[A] thoughtful study . . . Targoff, a literary scholar, highlights four female contemporaries of Shakespeare, women who 'weren’t encouraged' and rarely received 'even a shred of acclaim,' but managed to write nonetheless.” —The New Yorker

“[A] thrilling new group biography . . . Celebrates four very real Renaissance women who made use of their pens . . . With fluid prose, Targoff braids these four biographies to give an outstanding revisionist portrait of an age. She catalogues the difficulties these women faced—from lack of education, to extreme poverty, to obstreperous husbands—but the overall picture is not one, like Woolf imagined, of depression and madness. Targoff’s rewritten Renaissance is one in which women’s lives are not relegated; where their voices are heard
on the page.” The Telegraph

Shakespeare's Sisters reads like a poetically written novel replete with imagery and figures of sound, as opposed to chapters in a history. Although Shakespeare’s Sisters could be considered scholarly because of its subject matter, the book is written in clear, unpretentious language. Targoff also includes captivating introductions and cliffhanger chapter endings that keep readers turning pages. Resonant details of character, plot, and setting help to bring her story alive.” Washington Examiner

"Targoff has a knack for drawing out the drama and character of her subjects' lives. Part group biography, part investigation of the conditions that allowed these early modern women to become writers Shakespeare's Sisters is inspired by the life of Virginia Woolf's famously invented Judith Shakespeare. . . . Shakespeare's Sisters is elegantly written, witty, clear and accessible to non-specialists." —Times Literary Supplement

Shakespeare’s Sisters brings to light the story of four immensely talented women writers who were contemporaries of the English bard.” Vogue (Italy)

“Targoff shines an encouraging light on a quartet of talented female scribes.” Mail on Sunday

“In this decidedly feminist take on the literature of the English Renaissance, Targoff profiles four women who wrote during Shakespeare’s lifetime: Mary Sidney, Aemilia Lanyer, Elizabeth Cary, and Anne Clifford. Targoff colorfully captures these women who followed their passion for writing at a time when women were considered property and did not always receive any formal education . . .  The inclusion of historical art and texts gives readers the flavor of the Renaissance.” Library Journal

“Targoff delivers a vibrant group portrait of four women writers in Elizabethan England, most of whom were ignored or obscured for centuries but were 'resurrected' by feminist scholars in the 19th and 20th centuries. . . . Targoff’s narrative is full of vivid personalities and intriguing tales of court alliances and rivalries. It’s an enlightening study of the era’s literary scene and the women who persevered despite their exclusion from it.” Publishers Weekly

“Featuring crisp, engaging prose, Targoff’s eye-opening book welcomes general readers.” Kirkus Reviews
“In her new book, Ramie Targoff has done something extraordinary—written a sterling work of feminist history that is never narrowly ideological nor loses sight of the particular lives and language of her heroines. We meet an extraordinary cast of unknown characters, and live more richly in a time we thought we knew.” —Adam Gopnik

“Ramie Targoff has written a vivid, finely crafted portrait of four extraordinary Renaissance women whose writing, long buried in archives, defied all the rules. Mary Sidney’s translations, Ameilia Lanyer’s poems, Anne Clifford’s diaries, and Elizabeth Cary’s dramas contained radical messages of autonomy at a time when women had few legal rights and almost no access to education. Raised to keep quiet and obey their husbands, these writers kept diaries, created female heroines, and gave women starring roles on the stage and page. Targoff, an esteemed scholar of Renaissance literature, restores these women to the starring roles they deserve in this fresh, galavanting, and indispensable history of Renaissance England. Shakespeare’s Sisters challenges and expands our historical memory in sweeping, cinematic prose. Scholarly storytelling at its finest.” —Heather Clark, author of Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath
Product Details
ISBN: 9780525658030
ISBN-10: 0525658033
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: March 12th, 2024
Pages: 336
Language: English