A-Level English Masterclass 2024

Join Helen Hackett, Professor of English Literature at UCL, for a live Q&A on Wednesday 20th March 2024 at 14:00

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Shakespeare’s Sisters: Early Women Writers in Westminster Abbey

This lecture will reference some nineteenth century women writers such as Jane Austen, the Brontës and George Eliot. It will then explore earlier female authors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and will make links to Shakespeare, providing excellent background and context for these later writers.

Only a handful of women are commemorated in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey, including Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters and George Eliot. Yet other female authors – some from as early as Shakespeare’s time – are waiting to be discovered elsewhere in the Abbey. Aphra Behn, the first professional female playwright, is buried in the cloisters; others are hidden in plain sight as wives and daughters sharing monuments to men, including Margaret Cavendish, a prolific, daring and experimental author, and Dorothy Osborne, a vivacious letter-writer. Even Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, better known to us as monarchs, were also skilful poets; while Elizabeth Russell, an Elizabethan aristocrat, expressed herself by composing moving inscriptions for her husband’s tomb. This talk will explore the extraordinary lives and achievements of these women, and will show how we can find female authors if we look into the less obvious corners of the Abbey.

Photograph of horizontal memorial to author Margaret Cavendish within Westminster Abbey.


Headshot photograph of Helen Hackett, Professor of English Literature at UCL, speaking at the A Level English Masterclass in 2024 for Westminster Abbey.

Helen Hackett

Helen Hackett is a Professor of English Literature at UCL. She has been active since the 1980s in researching and teaching works by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century women. Her latest book is The Elizabethan Mind (Yale UP, 2022).

How it works

A link to the YouTube recording of the lecture will be sent to those who have registered on 28th February. Teachers can use this lecture however they choose, either watching it in class, or perhaps setting it as homework. Teachers and students should then submit their questions via an online form in advance of the Live Q&A.

The day before the Live Q&A you will be sent an invitation to join in Microsoft Teams (which requires a web browser, but it is not necessary to download the app to view). Helen will be interviewed by a member of the Westminster Abbey Learning Department, who will put selected questions to her. Viewers are invited to interact via the chat function, asking further questions if they wish.

The live event will also be recorded and sent to all participants in case you are unable to join us on the day.

Suitable for: KS5
Duration: Lecture: 45 mins; Live Q&A: 50 mins (this will also be recorded if you are unable to make the live event)
Cost: £48 per class. Includes private links to the lecture and Q&A and the opportunity to submit questions in advance.

Register now