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Yates, Frances A

Entry updated 22 March 2021. Tagged: Author, Critic.

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(1899-1981) UK academic and author, active from the mid-1920s, associated with the Warburg Institute from 1941 until her death. Her influence on sf has been indirect, though her ideas and discoveries have had a pervasive influence on authors of Fantastika in general, notably including John Crowley and Gene Wolfe (see Memory). Beginning with her first full-length publication, John Florio: The Life of an Italian in Shakespeare's England (1934), she engaged in revelatory explorations of figures like Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), John Dee and William Shakespeare, and of a wide range of subjects including Renaissance Hermeticism, Rosicrucianism (see Johann Valentin Andreae; Pariah Elite) and the Art and/or Theatre of Memory (see Tomasso Campanella; Jack Dann; Athanasius Kircher; Michael Swanwick; see again Memory). Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (1964) and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (1972) are central texts in the late twentieth-century discovery and elucidation of a chymical wedding of science and Magic in the sleepwalker creation of the modern intellectual world. Throughout Yates evokes the potency of the image of the human being as a microcosm of the universe as a whole (see Great and Small), and vice versa [for As Above, So Below and Little Big see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below].

The Art of Memory (1966) even more radically focuses on both the eponymous art itself, and the literal Theatre of Memory imagined both as a dramatized mental mnemonic and as a physical construction, usually in the form of an immensely complex theatre. Theatre of the World (1969) and Shakespeare's Last Plays: A New Approach (1975) further explore these conjunctions; in the latter, John Dee is urgently proposed as a model for Prospero.

Though her work is far more founded on data and a range of conclusions that can persuasively (if controversially) be drawn from them, Yates shares with Julian Jaynes the ability to couch her radical espousals in language whose effect on writers and others can have an oneiric intensity. Yates was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1977. [JC]

Dame Frances Amelia Yates

born Southsea, Portsmouth, Hampshire: 28 November 1899

died London: 29 September 1981

works (selected)


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