Scott, Maria M. Re-Presenting ‘Jane’ Shore:
Harlot and Heroine. Aldershot and Burlington, VT:
Ashgate, 2005. 141pp. ISBN 0 7546 3740 9.
University of East Anglia
"Review of Scott, Maria M. Re-Presenting ‘Jane’ Shore: Harlot and Heroine."
Early Modern Literary Studies 11.2 (September, 2005) 10.1-7 <URL:
- Born c.1450, Elizabeth
Lambert was the daughter of a wealthy London
citizen and at a relatively young age married to the merchant William
Shore. She came to prominence as
one of Edward IV’s
mistresses whose story first appears in Thomas
More’s History of Richard III (1513).
Very few substantiated facts are known about her and she only makes fleeting
appearances in a small number of documents from the early Tudor period. We
are reliant therefore upon More’s account to establish the narrative outline
of her life. She won praise for guiding royal policy and overturning unjust
judgements, but following Edward’s death in 1483 was accused of witchcraft
by Richard III, imprisoned, made to suffer public penance, and appears to
have finally died in poverty. From the early sixteenth century her story took
on a life of its own and was repeatedly rehearsed, reshaped, expanded and
redeployed in over seventy works covering a range of different genres produced
over four centuries.
- Maria M. Scott’s short monograph offers a clear, well-organized overview
of ‘re-presentations’ of ‘Jane’ Shore’s story and character ranging from More’s
History to twentieth-century novels and historical romances. Scott
begins by addressing the continued fascination Jane
Shore has attracted due to the
way that her life (or life-story) conjoins perceived social and sexual transgression:
she was a citizen’s wife who beds and ultimately influences the king. As such
she represents a complex, potentially threatening combination of female power
and illicit sexuality, but this is complicated by her repeated representations
as a victim who further characterizes Richard’s monstrosity and villainy;
hence Scott’s oxymoronic subtitle. Successive versions of Shore’s story attempt
to reconcile these two aspects though each time transforming it during the
process of transmission, akin to what Scott persists in calling a game of
- Scott’s method in each of the six main chapters
is to present a close reading and discursive summary of selected primary texts
and incorporate a range of secondary material to illustrate some of the different
directions taken in understanding the shifting Shore narrative. It is More’s
account that sets out most of the enduring commonplaces, establishing Shore
as part of the so-called ‘Tudor myth’ used to vilify Richard and legitimize
his defeat by Henry VII, but also highlighting how Shore’s power over Edward
reflects the problematic nature of his kingship. Shore’s story clearly serves
More’s wider interests in causation when recounting the failure of Yorkist
kingship. The tension between female sexuality and political power intensifies
during the later sixteenth century, not least (Scott observes) due to the
anxieties and challenges presented by the female monarchs Mary and Elizabeth
Tudor, though the analogy between Shore’s story and Elizabethan gender politics
is never fully developed here.
- Thomas Churchyard’s
poem on ‘Shore’s Wife’ in the 1563 Mirror for Magistrates (which he
revised in 1587) follows More’s pro-Tudor line, but through his first-person
presentation of Shore’s ‘case’ contrives her apology for actions she later
realizes were wrong. Churchyard’s Shore makes a point repeated in many later
texts that her friends ought to have advised and supported her more during
the affair and its aftermath, offering a domestic analogy to wider anxieties
expressed in More and Churchyard regarding Shore’s counsel of Edward. Shore’s
story as a whole thus engages (and would continue to engage) debates on the
correct uses and circumstances of counsel. Churchyard’s Shore also differs
from More’s in that she utters an extended curse on Richard, though Scott
shows little interest in the character’s use of language overall and ignores
the lines of enquiry raised by Mary Steible’s 2003 article on cursing in ‘Shore’s
- Scott moves on to consider Shore’s presence in a number of ballads by Thomas
Deloney, which are the first to identify her as ‘Jane’ (possibly so as to
distance the name of a harlot from that of the queen), and play up her social
identity as a member of the merchant class, clearly addressing the interests
of a wider popular audience. Chapter three examines dramatic representations
of Shore, firstly by discussing her dismissive treatment in Shakespeare’s
and the anonymous True Tragedy of Richard III, and then by concentrating
on Thomas Heywood’s
two-part King Edward IV (1599). In the latter plays Heywood develops
and celebrates Shore’s citizen identity further, establishing her much more
as a middle-class heroine used to articulate anxieties concerning relations
between city and court. Shore continues to play a vital part in the development
of domestic tragedy on the seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century stage.
- Shore’s story – particularly the censorious aspects – is also a popular
subject in chapbook literature and gradually accumulates ever-increasing detail.
Nineteenth-century novelized versions of the story continue to add depth to
the character’s psychology and use Shore’s life to revisit a popular theme
of the Victorian novel: the plight and pathos of the fallen woman. Shore appears
in several popular twentieth-century historical romances by Guy
Appleyard and Jean
Plaidy, and the relatively short description
of her fate found in More has by now expanded to fill works of several hundred
pages. Scott concludes by nodding towards contemporary
political sex scandals as a reminder of the enduring fascination with the
harlot/ heroine figure in the modern media.
- The real strength of this book is that it provides a compact overview of
a variety of the many primary texts on Jane
Shore. It also offers a good illustration,
if one were needed, of how different ages manipulate the same core narrative
materials. However, chapters generally consist as much of straight commentary
as they do detailed analysis, and Scott’s discussion
pays relatively little attention to the varieties of form and genre. What
are the implications, for example, of third-person narratives on Shore as
opposed to first-person treatments such as those by Churchyard and Michael
Drayton? What really lets this book down
is its presentation. Not only is the register often closer to that of a lecture
than a scholarly monograph (especially in the endnotes), but there are frequent
errors of fact and spelling. For example: the battle of Tewkesbury was fought
in 1471 not 1671 (p. 9); ‘Drayton’ should surely read ‘Deloney’ on p. 46;
‘Guy Paget’ nearly always appears as ‘ Guy Padget’, including on the back
cover; Anne Neville was married to the son of Edward IV not Edward VI (p.
131). In chapter six Sir Ian
McKellen’s surname is consistently misspelled.
Referencing is equally shoddy. On p. 24 Scott
cites (and possibly misreads) James
Harner’s short article on the word ‘meere’
in Churchyard’s ‘Shore’s Wife’, though it never appears in the bibliography.
There is also no indication as to the edition of the play Scott
uses in her section on the True Tragedy of Richard III as it fails
to appear in the notes or bibliography. Taken individually these are relatively
minor points but, as any instructor knows, careless errors of scholarly formatting
and poor proof-reading of final copy can seriously undermine the persuasiveness
of an otherwise engaging piece of work.
- Steible, Mary. “Jane Shore and the Politics of Cursing,” Studies in English
Literature 43 (2003): 1-17.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers'
Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).