Yates, Frances Amelia (1899–1981)

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Yates, Frances Amelia (1899–1981)

English historian of the Renaissance and Shakespearean scholar. Name variations: Dame Frances Yates. Born on November 28, 1899, in Portsmouth, England; died on September 29, 1981; daughter of James Alfred Yates (a naval architect) and Hannah (Malpas) Yates; attended Birkenhead High School; University College, London, B.A., 1924, M.A., 1926, D.Litt., 1967.

Selected writings:

John Florio: The Life of an Italian in Shakespeare's England (1934); A Study of "Love's Labour's Lost" (1936); The French Academics of the Sixteenth Century (1947); The Valois Tapestries (1959); Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (1964); The Art of Memory (1966); Theatre of the World (1969); The Rosicrucian Enlightenment (1972); Astraea: The Imperial Theme (1972); Shakespeare's Last Plays: A New Approach (1972); The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (1979); Collected Essays, Vol. 1: Lull and Bruno (1982), Vol. 2: Renaissance and Reform: The Italian Contribution (1983), Vol. 3: Ideas and Ideals in the North European Renaissance (1984).

Born in 1899, Frances Amelia Yates attended Birkenhead High School before entering University College, London, where she earned a bachelor's degree in 1924, a master's in 1926, and, after years of independent study, her doctorate of literature in 1967. She devoted her life to the study of, writing about, and lecturing on the Renaissance in 16th-century England, France, and Italy, including the literature and cultural customs of the time. In addition to her academic work, Yates spent two years during World War II, from 1939 to 1941, as an ambulance attendant in London.

Some of her first writings were completed in her 30s, including John Florio: The Life of an Italian in Shakespeare's England, which won the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize from the British Academy, and A Study of "Love's Labour Lost." By the time she was in her early 40s, Yates had joined the Warburg Institute, where she would spend most of her academic career. She began her 26-year tenure with the London school as a part-time research assistant in 1941. By 1944, she was a full-time lecturer and publications editor. By 1956, she had become a reader in Renaissance history, a position she held until 1967 when she was named an honorary fellow of the Institute. In those years, she published four other scholarly books of note.

Yates focused her historical studies on Renaissance movements involving hermeticism and the Rosicrucians, movements that emphasized the mystical, magical, and psychic aspects of human existence. Her research and writing juxtaposed languages, cultures, and disciplines traditionally studied independently. By bringing together these diverse ideas, Yates revealed Renaissance themes that had remained unnoticed. Her study also involved the reinterpretation of Renaissance humanism in which she saw two aspects: academic and mystical. In The Theatre of the World (1969), for example, Yates proposed that many of London's theaters, including the Globe, were built with cosmological and mystical requirements in mind. Although some of her arguments remain unproved, her focus on the links between science and magic during the 16th and 17th centuries has reformed contemporary understanding of Renaissance culture. Similarly, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment reveals common inspirations within the Renaissance across national barriers. Moreover, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age presents familiar images in texts in novel ways, demanding reinterpretation of widely held academic beliefs about Renaissance culture.

After Yates left the Warburg Institute, she received numerous awards and honors, including honorary doctorates from Edinburgh (1969), Oxford (1970), East Anglia (1971), Exeter (1971), and Warwick (1981). She was named an honorary fellow of Lady Margaret Hall of Oxford in 1970, and of the Society of Humanities of Cornell University. Yates was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1972 and made a Dame of the British Empire in 1977. She received the 1973 Wolfson Prize from the Wolfson Foundation for historical writing. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences named her a foreign member in 1975 and 1980, respectively, and she was also a fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society of London.


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Cyndia Zwahlen , editor and writer, Phoenix, Arizona