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The Merry Tanner, the mayor's feast, and the king's mistress: Thomas Heywood's 1 Edward IV and the ballad tradition.

Although Thomas Heywood's The First and Second Parts of King Edward the Fourth (1599) are nominally chronicle history plays, Heywood often seems to stretch the definition of history to the breaking point. The play's title page, which promises to present the king's "merrie pastime with the Tanner of Tamworth, as also his love to faire Mistresse Shore, her great promotion, fall, and miserie, and lastly the lamentable death of both her and her husband," gives a fair indication of Heywood's priorities. The real heroine of the piece is Jane Shore, the king's mistress, and Edward's friendship with a tanner named Hobs is given equal weight with his wars in France. The blurring of the line between the personal and political in this text has confounded modern critics; Peter Holbrook argues that these plays do not "qualify as ... history by Wilson's definition (that its 'chief interest' be 'political')" (155, n.18). Esther Yael Beith-Halahmi, similarly, argues that Heywood "is not concerned with the more abstract problems of government" (311). Comparing Heywood's treatment of this material with his popular ballad sources, however, throws his political agenda into sharp relief. In Heywood's world, politics are not confined to the court and battlefield; rather, they play out in the greenwood, the private home, and the artisan's shop.

The Elizabethan history play owes an immense debt to another form of popular historical narrative, the ballad--a genre which D. R. Woolf describes as "masterless history," uncensored and irreverent (37). Richard Helgerson, quoting William Chappell's notes to the Roxburghe ballad collection, suggests that the ballad tradition constitutes a " 'people's history of England' in two senses: they were the history commoners heard and knew, and they were history from a commoners' point of view" (Forms 237). Gerald Porter describes the "dense relation between working life, popular song, and the theatre," citing a number of elements in Shakespeare that seem to have been drawn from ballads or other aspects of the popular oral tradition (168). In the history plays, these range from the wooing scene in Henry V to the snatches of popular ballads that Falstaff quotes incessantly. Porter argues that "within the world of the plays, ballads function as part of the cultural resources of those who are disempowered"; Shakespeare associates the genre with working people, with frequent references to songs being sung by weavers, shoemakers, and other laborers (175). Heywood's tanner, likewise, quotes snatches of ballads incessantly in I Edward IV.

Ballads about historical topics performed similar cultural work to drama: they provided a narrative about England's past that was both entertaining and accessible to people who were illiterate or unable to afford books. This narrative was at once bound by a particular historical context and timeless in its use of folk motifs; it sought to humanize kings and emphasize the personal interaction between king and commoner. As Francis James Child explains in his exhaustive collection of English popular ballads, "Next to the adventures of Robin Hood and his men, the most favorite topic in English popular poetry is the chance-encounter with a king, unrecognized as such, with one of his humbler subjects" (69). Child surveys a dozen examples of such texts in his introduction to the ballad of "King Edward the Fourth and a Tanner of Tarn-worth," one of Heywood's sources for I Edward IV. These ballads feature kings ranging from Alfred the Great to William III, although the monarchs are usually generic figures undistinguished from each other by any topical references or explicit political commentary. Several common threads recur in these narratives: the king receives an invitation to dine and drink in a humble household, sometimes featuring venison poached from the royal preserve or some similarly incriminating item. Further dramatic irony results from the subject being overly free with his speech in front of his disguised guest, although he never says anything truly seditious or critical of the king. The meal is always a harmonious occasion, with much wine drunk by all. During the course of the feast, the host often teaches the king a particular drinking ritual that serves as a symbolic way of initiating the king into the community. (1) The words of this ritual may later identify subject and king to one another, or they may agree on some other sign or token by which they will know each other when they meet again. When recognized, the subject is invariably terrified that he is going to be hanged for poaching or general disrespect; instead, the king pardons him and offers largesse (Child 67-87).

The "king disguised" narrative was a favorite on stage as well; Shakespeare, for example, employs it on multiple occasions in the second tetralogy. The episode that most overtly evokes the ballad tradition is the scene before the battle of Agincourt in Henry V, in which Henry wanders his army's camp in disguise and encounters one unwitting subject after another. The first man he meets is Pistol, the last survivor of the Boar's Head crowd, who praises the king in crude but hearty terms that resemble those of the ballad commoners. After a brief interlude with Captains Fluellen and Gower, Henry meets three common soldiers and converses with them at length. The most outspoken of the three, Michael Williams, unaware that he is face to face with the king, vents his displeasure freely. Henry and Williams exchange tokens by which they agree to recognize each other. When they meet again, Williams is accused of treason for offering to strike the king, but Henry pardons him and gives him a glove full of crowns.

The outward trappings of this scene are thus virtually identical to those of the disguised-king ballads, but Anne Barton argues that Shakespeare draws on popular ballad motifs in this episode "in order to question, not to celebrate, a folk convention" (99). Unlike the ballad kings who discover concord and mutual respect with their subjects wherever they go, Henry quarrels with his soldiers, fails to provide adequate answers to their questions about the justice of his cause, and finally retreats into a resentful soliloquy. His apparent reconciliation with Michael Williams, though accompanied by a lavish gift,
  provides not a ghost of an answer to the questions raised during this
  particular encounter between common man and king disguised. Is the
  king's cause just? If not, what measure of guilt does he incur for
  requiring men to die for anything but the strict necessity of their
  country? Can the opinions and judgments of private men influence a
  sovereign on his throne? Henry is generous to Williams, but it is a
  dismissive generosity which places the subject firmly in an inferior
  position and silences his voice. The two men do not sit down at table
  together to any common feast, in the manner of Dekker's Henry V or
  Heywood's Edward IV. ("The King Disguised" 101)

Here and elsewhere in her article, Barton uses the Hobs scenes from 1 Edward IV as a paradigm of a more "conventional" disguised-king episode, one that "generate[s] harmony, good fellowship, and mutual understanding" (96). Heywood's play and other contemporary ballad-inspired histories exemplify a genre Barton calls "comical history," while she argues that Shakespeare's treatment of these same motifs is essentially tragic.

To anyone familiar with the ending of the Edward IV plays, this is a problematic contention. The deaths of the Shores and their comrades bring the cycle to a bleak conclusion, while Heywood supplies only the barest hint that Richard will eventually fall. Barton's use of the terms "comical" and "tragical" history is one of the key points with which Richard Helgerson takes issue in Forms of Nationhood. He argues that this distinction not only misrepresents Heywood's tone, but carries with it an implicit, and unfair, value judgment in Shakespeare's favor. Helgerson does read the Edward IV plays as qualitatively different from the Shakespearean histories, claiming that ballad-inspired histories such as Heywood's reflect the perspective of the subjects rather than the rulers. While they do not support open rebellion, they do "represent [monarchic] power from the point of view of those who suffer its harshest consequences" (239). The hallmark of this group of plays, in his view, is the prominent presence of a likeable character with populist sympathies who eventually becomes a victim of royal power, suffers greatly as a result, yet remains deeply loyal to the monarch; Heywood's Jane and Matthew Shore exemplify this character type. Helgerson perceives the general political position of Heywood's play as indistinguishable from that of the ballads, which he summarizes as follows:
  [T]he dominant attitude of the play accords with that of Hobs, the
  tanner of Tamworth. "I am just akin to Sutton Windmill," Hobs tells
  the disguised King Edward. "I can grind which way soe'er the wind
  blows. If it be Harry, I can say 'Well fare Lancaster.' If it be
  Edward, I can sing, 'York, York, for my money.'" Hobs shares the
  instinctive and indiscriminate loyalty of the balladeers for whom
  every king, regardless of lineage or personal qualities, is "our
  (Forms 238)

Yet when they are placed in context, and especially when read alongside the ballad from which Heywood drew the Hobs scenes, these lines admit a more cynical and more politically sophisticated reading. If we accept Barton's basic argument about the Michael Williams scenes, Heywood and Shakespeare do not seem so far apart after all.

Heywood's story line about Hobs the Tanner is drawn from a ballad source, but substantially reworked in ways that throw the ballad's ideological position into question. The ballad of "King Edward the Fourth and a Tanner of Tamworth" exists in multiple versions, but Heywood would most likely have known the one printed in London in 1596 by John Danter (Child Ballads, V, 81-83). Unlike Heywood's play, this ballad makes no reference to Edward's reputation as a playboy or the broader political context of his reign; any of the other popular ballad kings--Alfred, Henry II, Edward III--would have served the purpose equally well. The unnamed tanner is also a generic figure, unaware of the world outside of Tamworth. He expresses no political opinions, though he speaks bluntly enough when giving his opinion of the king, whom he considers a fool because the king does not recognize a good cowhide when he sees one. Every aspect of the tanner's characterization is class-marked. He is chiefly concerned with his own possessions--he takes great pride in his "good russet coat" and his "mare cost foure shillings"--and his trade (lines 13-15). When Edward insists on changing horses, the tanner first demands payment because he likes his own mare better, and then proceeds to demonstrate his crudeness and ineptitude in a comical riding scene:
  The king tooke the tanner by the leg,
  and lift him up a loft;
  The tanner girded out a good round fart,
  his belly it was so soft.

  "You make great waste," said our king,
  your curtesie is but small;"
  "Thy horse is so high," quoth the tanner againe,
  "I feare me of a fall."

  But when the tanner was in the saddle
  the steede began to blow and blast,
  And against the roote of an old tree
  the tanner downe he cast.
    (lines 145-56)

The tanner's inability to remain mounted on the king's high horse--or even to recognize that it is a better horse than his own--underscores the apparent "rightness" of social distinctions. The ballad never seriously questions these distinctions, although it introduces elements of comic misrule, culminating in Edward's offer to make the tanner an esquire. In return, the tanner promises the king, "The next time thou comest to Tamworth town, / Thou shalt have clouting-leather for thy shoon" (line 220). Although he has, in a sense, struck up a neighborly relationship with King Edward, he is never in any danger of losing either his present social standing or his comic ignorance of appropriate social behavior. Stephen Greenblatt, writing about peasant humor in the Renaissance, underscores the distinction "between a laughter that levels--that draws lord and clown together in the shared condition of the flesh--and a laughter that attempts to inscribe ineradicable differences"; the humor of the ballad is clearly the latter (17). Finally, and most importantly, the tanner is clearly as unfit to judge the king's policies as the king is to judge a cowhide, nor does he attempt to claim a political and historical voice for the commons by expressing his opinions of the king and the times.

The implication that king and commoner are made of different stuff has vanished from the parallel episode in I Edward IV. Heywood's Hobs may be ignorant of the finer points of court etiquette, but he lacks the crudeness and absence of control over his own body that make the tanner in the ballad the butt of slapstick humor. The scene in the play is also darker and more politically charged. The civil wars, never mentioned in the ballad, are always in the background here. Before the king arrives, Hobs voices his frustration with the political situation: "[B]y my troth, I know not when I speak treason, when I do not. There's such halting betwixt two kings, that a man cannot go upright, but he shall offend t'one of them. I would God had them both, for me" (sc. 11.63-66). Hobs's responses to the disguised king's questions are understandably guarded. The audience cannot assume that he has no opinion about the wars, only that he has a keen sense of self-preservation. Despite the pervading atmosphere of danger and surveillance, a note of protest against current conditions creeps into the conversation from time to time:
  King. Pray thee tell me, how love they king Edward?
  Hobs. Faith, as poor folks love holidays: glad to have them now and
  then, but to have them come too often will undo them. So, to see the
  King now and then, 'tis comfort, but every day would beggar us. And I
  may say to thee, we fear we shall be troubled to lend him money, for
  we doubt he's but needy.

Hobs, then, has definite political opinions but is wise enough to soften his criticism of the king with compliments. The tanner neatly parries Edward's subsequent line of questioning, presenting himself as a politically ignorant, indiscriminately loyal peasant, but by this point the audience knows it is a pose. His tone remains lighthearted and he quotes a snatch of popular song, but he seems acutely conscious that identifying himself to a stranger as either a Lancastrian or a Yorkist would court danger.
  King. Say'th whether lovest thou better Harry or Edward.
  Hobs. Nay, that's counsel, and two may keep it, if one be away.
  King. Shall I say my conscience? I think Harry is the true king.
  Hobs. Art advised of that? Harry's of the old house of Lancaster, and
  that progen-ity do I love.
  King. And thou dost not hate the house of York?
  Hobs. Why, no, for I am just akin to Sutton windmill: I can grind
  which way so e'er the wind blow. If it be Harry, I can say "well fare
  Lancaster"; If it be Edward, I can sing "Yorke, Yorke, for my money."

Unlike the tanner of the ballad, Heywood's Hobs is far from naive. One gets the impression that he may well have strong views about the succession, but is intelligent and crafty enough to evade a potentially dangerous line of questions. The entire scene, on close reading, reveals a delicate balance between loyalty and fear.

Hobs becomes more outspoken when the king offers him a monopoly on his trade; "By the mass and the matins, I like not those pattens. Sirrah, they that have them do as the priests did in old time: buy and sell the sins of the people. So they make the King believe they mend what's amiss, and, for money they make the thing worse than it is ... Faith, 'tis pity that one subject should have in his hand, that might do good to many throughout the land" (75-83). Hobs implies that the holders of patents have deceived the king about their intentions, and that the commoners are in a better position than King Edward to know about these abuses. While he avoids criticizing the king directly, he also makes a powerful argument in favor of popular participation in the government by implying that kings are not always fully informed of conditions in their kingdom. The king's response to this is rather oblique--"Sayst thou me so, tanner?"--suggesting that he is, perhaps, in less than perfect concord with these sentiments, although he will later allow himself to be ruled in this matter by Jane Shore, who shares Hobs's dislike of patents (84).

Nevertheless, there seem to be no hard feelings; in keeping with the usual conventions of the disguised-king narrative, Hobs invites the king and his companion home for a meal. The fare is simple: "a good barley bagpudding, a piece of fat bacon, a good cow heel, a hard cheese, and a brown loaf" washed down with plenty of "Mother Whetstone's ale" (14.15-16, 88). In this homely setting, the king drops the biggest political bombshell of the play: Henry VI is dead, and with him the Lancastrian line. Hobs's response to the king's anxious question about how the commons will take this news is one part heartfelt insistence on the common destiny of mankind and one part cynical political commentary:
  Well, God be with good king Henry.
  Faith, the commons will take it as a common thing.
  Death's an honest man; for he spares not the king;
  For as one's come, another's ta'en away--
  And seldom comes the better, thats all we say.

The evening's entertainment concludes with a song about England's past:
  Agincourt, Agincourt, know ye not Agincourt?
  Where the English slew and hurt
  All the French foemen:
  With our guns and bills brown,
  O, the French were beaten downe,
  Morris-pikes and bowmen.

Hobs's choice of song provides a rather amusing metatextual moment: a popular ballad about English history is being performed by a character from a popular ballad about English history. The lyrics emphasize the notion that the battle of Agincourt was won by the people: the verse quoted is not about the heroic exploits of Henry V, but about "the English" and "our Guns and bills brown." This intensely populist (and jingoistic) view of history underscores the theme of popular patriotism--and popular solidarity--that informs the entire play.

Nevertheless, the type of historical narrative that Heywood's play provides is fundamentally different from that of the popular ballad. The ballads offer a vision of the past that is comforting, idyllic, and above all stable. Not only does Heywood weave the story of King Edward and the tanner into a broader historical context and situate it at a critical moment of dynastic change, but he also draws the audience's attention to the idea of historical change by having Edward remark after his first meeting with Hobs, "I see plain men, by observation / Of things that alter in the change of times / Do gather knowledge" (13.98-100). The times are in flux, and there is at least a hint that these changes may be empowering for men like Hobs: "plain men" are more knowledgeable and more politically aware than they have been in the past. However, the commoners in the Edward IV plays are left in the awkward position of having knowledge and opinions but no political agency of their own, except such agency as they can negotiate through their brief and unstable relationships with the king. The episodes that follow Hobs's encounter with the king lead the audience to question whether this is sufficient, even under Edward's relatively benevolent rule; they also introduce some of Heywood's sharpest social commentary.

Laura Caroline Stevenson has noted that several of the financial concerns mentioned in the play, such as Hobs's criticism of patents and his fear that the "needy" king will ask him for money, touch upon abuses common at Elizabeth's court rather than Edward's (206 ff.). Shades of the present also creep in when Hobs and his neighbors appear in a follow-up scene with Edward's officials, who are collecting a quasi-voluntary tax called a benevolence. At first glance, the episode does appear benevolent; many of the residents of Tamworth give willingly and generously, while Hobs shames the more reluctant members of his community into contributing. Perhaps this is the payoff from Edward's personalized, commoner-friendly style of kingship. The scene is, however, problematic for several reasons. This method of taxation would have been an odd practice for Heywood to romanticize. Never popular, benevolences were outlawed under Richard III, although later monarchs continued to collect them from time to time; Elizabeth did so in 1599, the year that the Edward IV plays were written. The first benevolence, the one dramatized in the play, inspired Holinshed to editorialize, "many with grudge gave great summes toward that newe found ayde, which of them might bee called a Maleuolence" (qtd. in Crupi 234). Heywood transforms this picture of a reluctant populace into a scene in which the grudging are punished and those subjects who give willingly are "rewarded" with the moral high ground, but, as Charles Crupi points out, it is less clear whether they will receive a more practical recompense from the king in return: "[W]e must ask whether the play dramatizes royal willingness to honor the feudal obligations contained in language and represented in ritual. If not, obedience is merely submission and the fantasy of conciliation is accordingly subverted" (232). Because the play raises grave and persistent questions about whether Edward's hearty populist manner is actually good for his subjects, the scene takes on a darker tone in context.

In particular, Edward's failure to "requite" generosity in kind will become the defining feature of his relationship with Matthew Shore, an ideal citizen who loses his wife to a less than ideal king. Matthew, whether motivated by humility or by a touch of pride in his own social rank, refuses to be knighted in the aftermath of Falconbridge's rebellion. Instead, Edward promises him, "some other way / We will devise to quittance thy deserts" (10.240-41). As Lena Cowen Orlin notes, Edward's words find a bitter echo toward the end of the play, when Shore resigns his wife to the king and plans to leave the country: "England, fare thou well. / And Edward, for requiting me so well, / But dare I speak of him? Forbear, forbear" (20.94-96). This emphasis on requital, or the lack thereof, colors the resolution of the benevolence episode. Immediately after Shore's exit, the king enters and discusses the excellent yield from the benevolence with Howard and Sellinger. He promises that he "must requite that honest tanner" (21.14) with an invitation to court--but the juxtaposition of the two scenes provides a dark reminder that the king's requitals are not always fair or kind. Even his desire to play host to Hobs seems as much motivated by the promise of "good sport" as a sincere wish to return a favor (16). Both balladeer and playwright invoke the idea of neighborly reciprocity as they explore the relationship between king and subject, but while the ballad's happy ending provides a comforting fantasy of a subject establishing a successful neighborly relationship with the king, Heywood emphasizes Edward's failure to fulfill his end of this social obligation.

The play brings the Hobs story line to a happy, but by no means unproblematic, conclusion. 1 Edward IV ends as most disguised-king ballads do, with the familiar rite of recognition, pardon, and celebration. Hobs comes to London to plead for his son, who is in jail for robbery, and ends up fearing for his own life when he discovers that he has addressed the king as "plain 'Ned,' mad rogue and rascal" (23.86). Predictably, the king absolves him, pardons his son, and gives him forty pounds, but Hobs remains wary and mildly skeptical of Edward's good faith to the end: "Marry, you speak like an honest man, if you mean what you say" (101-2). Furthermore, Heywood departs from the usual ballad pattern by foregrounding the generosity not of the king, but of the Widow Norton, who voluntarily adds her own "widows mite" to the sum the king originally requested as a benevolence (120). Edward's efforts to help her to a good husband are gently undermined by Hobs and the widow, who have no particular desire to be married off to one another. Thus, while a certain measure of harmony and good fellowship are indeed evident in the Hobs subplot, the third element Barton describes as central to the comical history--"mutual understanding"--remains elusive.

Another perennial feature of the disguised-king ballads, the feast shared by king and subjects, reappears elsewhere in the play and in a more troubling context, when Mayor Crosbie invites the king to the feast where he first sees Mistress Shore. The Lord Mayor is a self-made man, and his characterization has been cited as evidence of Heywood's ideological conservatism and procapitalist stance. Jean Howard and Theodora Jankowski, for example, argue that Crosbie's story of his origins romanticizes the status quo and erases the real obstacles to a penniless foundling becoming a prosperous tradesman, suggesting that poor people who fail to pull themselves up by the bootstraps are at fault. Crosbie's initial soliloquy, however, does not celebrate individual entrepreneurship, but rather the network of social obligations that knits London tradesmen together. One salient feature of his rags-to-riches tale is that there are no aristocrats in it. His chief benefactors are a poor shoemaker and the masters of the Hospital of London. Both, in turn, have become the beneficiaries of his good fortune, and he has also established a poorhouse. While actual social realities were, of course, grimmer, it is significant that Heywood imagines private charity as a self-contained, commoner-run success story, based on reciprocity and mutual respect. At the disastrous feast which the king attends, these social virtues break down. Rather than reciprocating the mayor's hospitality, Edward sows discontent in the Shores' marriage and abruptly leaves the table when he can no longer keep his desire for Jane under control. Crosbie is both devastated and bewildered ("My house to cause my Sovereigns discontent?"), while the king does nothing to assuage his distress (16.179). As Stevenson argues, the episode "suggest[s] that Edward's courtly behaviour, unlike the London citizen's loyal conduct, is merely a cover for what in Heywood's plays are consistently the greatest of faults--callousness and ingratitude" (118). While Edward's supper with Hobs has the expected genial good humor and harmonious outcome of the popular ballads, a more complete reversal of these tropes than the mayor's feast cannot be imagined.

This scene also introduces the King Edward / Jane Shore subplot, the site of Heywood's most radical departure from the ballads' ideological position. Because Mistress Shore's name was both familiar and laden with cultural baggage for the Elizabethans, it will be helpful to give a brief overview of her other appearances in sixteenth-century literature, beginning with Sir Thomas More's History of King Richard III. More apologizes for including such a lengthy account of a female commoner's character and deeds, conscious that this digression was at odds with his contemporaries' sense of decorum and his own practices elsewhere in the History:
  I doubt not some shall think this woman so slight a thing to be
  written of and set among the remembrances of great matters, which
  they shall specially think that haply shall esteem her only by that
  they now see her. But me seemeth the chance so much the more worthy
  to be remembered, in how much she is now in the more beggarly
  condition, unfriended and worn out of acquaintance, after good
  substance, after as great favor with the prince, after as great suit
  and seeking to with all those that those days had business to speed,
  as many other men were in their times, which now be famous only by
  the infamy of their evil deeds. Her doings were not so much less,
  albeit they be much less remembered, because they were not so evil.
  For men use if they have an evil turn to write it in marble: and
  whoso doth us a good turn, we write it in dust, which is not worst
  proved by her; for at this day she beggeth of many at this day
  living, that at this day had begged if she had not been.

More justifies his interest in Mistress Shore's life because it emblematizes a larger moral truth. He extrapolates her story into a commentary on the rise and fall of great men--a more fitting subject for historiography, in the eyes of most Renaissance writers. Richard Helgerson considers More's work the first "commoner's history," in large part because this portion of the text suggests that "tragic emotion may not be the exclusive province of the great" ("Weeping" 456). This interpretation, however, obscures the fact that this passage is unique in the History. Elsewhere, More appears to sympathize with the commoners as a group--portraying the London citizens as politically savvy and quick to see through Richard's political machinations--but rarely comments on the character and deeds of individuals. Mistress Shore is a remarkable exception in a text where the commons appear, for the most part, as commentators rather than as agents.

The citizen's wife turned royal paramour was an unlikely heroine in a culture that valued female chastity and regarded history making as the province and prerogative of aristocratic males. Nevertheless, Mistress Shore's story captured the popular imagination throughout the sixteenth century. (2) She became a central character in a number of poetic and dramatic texts dealing with Edward's reign, including A Mirror for Magistrates, a series of popular poems and ballads, and three history plays, including Heywood's two Edward IV plays. Along the way, she acquired a first name--Jane--and a pathetic death scene. As Helgerson has noted, her absence from the stage in Shakespeare's first tetralogy would have been perceived by contemporaries as a conspicuous and deliberate omission; she was as integral to many popular accounts of Edward's reign as the king himself ("Weeping" 462). In Heywood's treatment of the same era, by contrast, she appears at the heart of the story, just where audiences would have expected her to be--but Heywood makes some unprecedented changes to his sources in his treatment of her character.

While More describes Mistress Shore in sympathetic terms and does not stress her wantonness or desire to take a lover above her husband's social station, the popular ballads ascribe these negative traits to her before she meets Edward. In The Garland of Good Will, Thomas Deloney characterizes her as a willful, spoiled girl: "The only daughter of a wealthy merchant man / Against whose counsel evermore / I was rebelling" (lines 12-14). In an anonymous ballad from the Roxburghe collection, (3) Jane admits she "spread my plumes as wantons do / Some sweet and secret friend to wooe / Because my love I did not find / Agreeing to my wanton mind" (lines 23-26). One version of this ballad substitutes "chaste" for "my" in the third line, further underscoring Jane's sexual transgressions (Chappell 484, n. 7). The same ballad introduces Jane's false friend Mistress Blage, who urges her companion to accept Edward's advances because she considers it "a gallant thing / To be beloved of a king" (lines 33-34). Thus counseled, Mistress Shore embraces her new position at court and "the Joys that love could bring" (line 45). There is no sign of Heywood's tormented Jane in this text; Matthew is the only one who suffers while King Edward is alive. After Jane's fall from influence, the ballads emphasize her physical mortification rather than her repentance and spiritual redemption. She becomes a Cressida-like figure, begging "with clacke and dish" and wearing filthy, vermin-infested rags (Deloney, line 62).

As Helgerson notes, Heywood departs from every known contemporary version of the story by depicting the Shores' marriage as genuinely affectionate and the middle-class household as a "place of value" ("Weeping" 463). Heywood fiercely interrogates assumptions that the ballads take for granted--the king's "right" to a mistress, the transgressive desire for pleasure and power that leads to Jane's fall. Jane shows no sign of excessive social ambition or discontent with her husband in I Edward IV, although Edward attempts to instill these feelings in her when he speaks of her marriage: "You had been a lady but for him" (16.92). Like most of the arguments he uses to persuade her to become his mistress, this ploy proves unsuccessful. Ultimately, Heywood's women are motivated not by lust or ambition, but by an acute sense of their own powerlessness and the dangers of disobeying the monarch. Jane's friend, Mistress Blage, counsels her:
  Believe me, Mistress Shore, a dangerous case,
  And every way replete with doubtful fear ...
  If you should yield, your virtuous name were soiled,
  And your beloved husband made a scorn.
  And, if not yield, it's likely that his love,
  Which now admires ye, will convert to hate;
  And who knows not, a prince's hate is death?

The pervasive atmosphere of fear, both in this scene and in the episode in 2 Edward IV where Mistress Blage rejects her friend, renders both women's transgressions more understandable and forgivable.

But in another sense, Mistress Blage's treachery is far more serious in the play than in the Roxburghe ballad: Heywood treats personal loyalty as the fundamental measure of a character's decency. Nowhere is this clearer than in the differing treatments of Jane's middle-class community in the play and in its sources. The Roxburghe ballad makes social isolation part of Mistress Shore's punishment and portrays the loss of friendships and respect among her peers as a natural consequence of adultery: "Thus was I scorn'd of maid and wife / For leading such a wicked life / Both sucking babes and children small / Did make a pastime of my fall" (123-26). Only one friend defies the general condemnation of Jane and ventures to relieve her, and gets hanged for his pains. The ballad ends, not happily, but with a validation of conventional morality--Mistress Shore repents her sins and urges others not to imitate them. The respectable neighbors who ostracized her are vindicated.

By contrast, in Heywood's play the community at large sympathizes with Jane. The petitioners whose cases she has pleaded risk their lives to help her, and Brakenbury comments that the crowds who witness her disgrace "have their relenting eyes even big with tears" (2 Edward IV, 18.113). Mistress Blage and Rufford, characters whom Heywood strongly condemns and portrays as hypocrites, are the sole exceptions. The contrast between their behavior and the ready generosity of Aire, Jockie, Brakenbury, and even Matthew Shore encourages the audience to judge Jane's betrayers harshly, while the royal mistress's own errors seem readily excusable in the light of her friends' forgiveness and her own willingness to extend charity toward Mistress Blage. (4) Moreover, the play ends with the sense that Richard's treatment of Jane is an unrelieved moral travesty. Because Heywood chooses to include only the faintest foreshadowing of the tyrant's fall at the conclusion of the play, readers and viewers are deprived of the neat sense of closure and justice that characterizes the ballads.

Jane's moral transgressions do not go unacknowledged in the play, but the public shame that constitutes her punishment in the ballads has been replaced by an internal sense of guilt. The level of self-awareness and self-condemnation that Heywood's Jane displays, almost from the very moment when she agrees to become the king's mistress, has no parallel in the ballads, in which she shows no sign of repentance until after Edward's death. If her remorse is private, however, her method of seeking atonement is very public; she becomes the king's proxy and link to the people who seek his assistance. More's description of Mistress Shore's "great suit and seeking to with all those that those days had business to speed" is vividly dramatized in a scene in which Jane agrees to help a series of petitioners. Her sympathies clearly lie with the poor against the powerful, and she becomes an eloquent spokeswoman and advocate for the commons. The three petitioners to whom Jane offers assistance become, in a sense, her new community; they will repay her favors in 2 Edward IV, after her fall from grace. However, a fourth petitioner, a man named Rufford who seeks a license to transport corn (another abuse more reminiscent of Elizabeth's reign than Edward's), incurs Jane's anger: "[You] care not how you wound the commonwealth. / The poor must starve for food to fill your purse, / And the enemy bandy bullets of our lead" (I Edward IV, 22.66-68). This is the second time the play has raised the issue of monopolies. While Crupi argues that Hobs's subversive potential has come to nothing, since Edward's noncommittal response to his tirade against patents "provides ... no indication of the possibility of reform," this episode picks up on one of the tanner's most important complaints and dramatizes one potential (if impractical) avenue for change: the principled decision of a commoner elevated to a social position where she can influence policy (245). The English people benefit from Jane's elevation to royal favor; but she herself will not be so lucky in the end.

Thus, Heywood's treatment of the relationship between king and subject is diametrically opposed to that of most popular ballads, which use the motifs of the disguised king and the common feast to bring about a happy ending marked by good fellowship between king and commoner. While social distinctions are temporarily set aside or reversed in these episodes, the harmonious ending reasserts their essential rightness and usefulness. In 1 Edward IV, Heywood deliberately manipulates these ballad conventions in order to blacken the king's character and raise questions about the rightness of social distinctions. Differing treatments of community are central to this transformation. The disguised-king ballads typically have two important characters, the king himself and the subject temporarily deceived by his appearance; their friendship emblematizes a broader vision of cross-class harmony. In Heywood's plays, the commoners' primary relationships are with other commoners, and these social networks are permanently disrupted by the king's actions. By placing Crosbie, Matthew, and especially Jane at the heart of a vital and supportive community, Heywood makes us acutely aware of what these characters--with whom Heywood's original audience would have had much in common--stand to lose through their familiarity with the king.


(1.) Prince Hal's boast that he "can drink with any tinker in his own language" (I Henry IV, II. iv. 18-19) is reminiscent of this motif.

(2.) For background information and more extensive discussion of the numerous literary texts dealing with Mistress Shore, see Beith-Halahmi, Angell Fayre or Strumpet Lewd; Harner, "Jane Shore in Literature," and Pratt, "Jane Shore and the Elizabethans."

(3.) This ballad is titled, in full, "The Woful Lamentation of Mrs. Jane Shore, a Gold-smith's Wife of London, sometime King Edward the Fourth's Concubine, who for her Wanton Life came to a Miserable End. Set forth for the Example of all wicked Livers"; its presentation as a warning for wicked wives emphasizes the domestic rather than the historical implications of Mistress Shore's story.

(4.) Interestingly, Mistress Blage appears "very poorly, a-begging with her basket and clap-dish" in her final scene on stage (sc. 20, s.d.). This grim image of female penitence is attached to Jane in the ballads.

Works Cited

Barton, Anne. "The King Disguised: Shakespeare's Henry V and the Comical History." In The Triple Bond, edited by Joseph G. Price. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1975, 92-117.

Beith-Halahmi, Esther Yael. Angell Fayre or Strumbet Lewd: Jane Shore as an Example of Erring Beauty in 16th Century Literature. Vol. 2. Salzburg, Austria: Institut fur Englische Sprache und Literatur, 1974.

Chappell, William. Roxburghe Ballads. Vol. 1. London: Taylor and Company, 1871. 9 vols.

Child, Francis James. The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Vol. 5. New York: Dover, 1965. 5 vols.

Crupi, Charles W. "Ideological Contradiction in Part I of Heywood's Edward IV: 'Our Musicke Runs ... Much upon Discords.'" Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 7 (1995): 224-56.

Deloney, Thomas. "Shores Wife" from The Garland of Good Will. Edited by F. O. Mann.

Greenblatt, Stephen. "Murdering Peasants: Status, Genre, and the Representation of Rebellion." In Representing the English Renaissance, edited by Stephen Greenblatt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988, 1-30.

Harner, James L. "Jane Shore in Literature: A Checklist." Notes and Queries 28 (1981): 496-507.

Helgerson, Richard. Forms of Nationhood. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

--. "Weeping for Jane Shore." South Atlantic Quarterly 98, no. 3 (1999): 451-76.

Heywood, Thomas. The First and Second Parts of King Edward IV. Edited by Richard Rowland. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005.

Holbrook, Peter. Literature and Degree in Renaissance England. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994.

Howard, Jean. "Other Englands: The View from the Non-Shakespearean History Play." In Other Voices, Other Views: Expanding the Canon in Renaissance Studies, edited by Helen Ostovich, Mary V. Silcox, and Graham Roebuck. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1999, 135-53.

Jankowski, Theodora A. "Historicizing and Legitimating Capitalism: Thomas Heywood's Edward IV and If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody." Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 7 (1995): 305-37.

More, Sir Thomas. The History of King Richard III and Selections from the English and Latin Poems. Edited by Richard S. Sylvester. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976.

Orlin, Lena Cowen. Private Matters and Public Culture in Post-Reformation England. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Palmer, Daryl W. "Edward IV's Secret Familiarities and the Politics of Proximity in Elizabethan History Plays." ELH 61 (1994): 279-315.

Porter, Gerald. "Shakespeare and the Ballad." In Ballads into Books: The Legacies of Francis James Child, edited by Tom Cheesman and Sigrid Rieuwerts. Bern: Peter Lang, 1997. 165-78.

Pratt, Samuel M. "Jane Shore and the Elizabethans: Some Facts and Speculations." Texas Studies in Literature and Language 11 (1971): 1293-1306.

Shakespeare, William. The Complete Works. Edited by Hardin Craig. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1961.

Stevenson, Laura Caroline. Praise and Paradox: Merchants and Craftsmen in Elizabethan Popular Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Woolf, D. R. "The 'Common Voice': History, Folklore and Oral Tradition in Early Modern England." Past and Present 120 (1998): 26-52.
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Author:Corrigan, Nora L.
Publication:Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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