The novel is a sustained parody of, and direct response to, the stylistic failings and moral hypocrisy that Fielding saw in Richardson's Pamela. Reading Shamela amounts to re-reading Pamela through a deforming magnifying glass; Richardson's text is rewritten in a way that reveals its hidden implications, to subvert and desecrate it.
Richardson's epistolary tale of a resolute servant girl, armed only with her 'virtue' to battle against her master's attempts at seduction, had become an overnight literary sensation in 1741. The implicit moral message – that a girl's chastity has eventual value as a commodity – as well as the awkwardness of the epistolary form in dealing with ongoing events, and the triviality of the detail which the form necessitates, were some of the main targets of Fielding's travesty.
Recent criticism has explored the ways in which Pamela in fact dramatises its own weaknesses. From this perspective, Fielding's work may be seen as a development of possibilities already encoded in Richardson's work, rather than a simple attack. Another novel by Fielding parodying Pamela, albeit not so explicitly, is The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and his Friend, Mr. Abraham Adams (February 1742), more commonly known as Joseph Andrews.