Scott, Maria M. Re-Presenting ‘Jane’ Shore: Harlot and Heroine. Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005. 141pp. ISBN 0 7546 3740 9.

Matthew Woodcock
University of East Anglia

Woodcock, Matthew. "Review of Scott, Maria M. Re-Presenting ‘Jane’ Shore: Harlot and Heroine." Early Modern Literary Studies 11.2 (September, 2005) 10.1-7 <URL:>.

  1. 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.
  1. 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 ‘Post-Office’.
  1. 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.
  1. 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 Wife’.
  1. 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 Richard III 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.
  1. 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 Paget, Susan 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.
  1. 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.
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