Yates, Mary Ann (1728–1787)

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Yates, Mary Ann (1728–1787)

English actress. Born Mary Ann Graham in 1728; died in 1787; married Richard Yates, around 1756.

Acted in London theaters, most notably in tragic roles (1753–85); was joint manager of the Haymarket Opera House (1774); notable roles: Medea (1767), Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra, Imogen in Cymbeline: King of Britain, Cordelia in King Lear and Desdemona in Othello.

Mary Ann Yates, considered one of England's greatest tragic actresses, was born Mary Ann Graham in 1728. Throughout her lengthy career, she became known for a powerful dignity that was aptly suited for the role of a tragic heroine, though too frigid for a comic or sympathetic performance. She spent more than 30 years on the stage, retiring only two years before her death in 1787.

In her mid-20s, Yates began to garner notice for her roles at the Drury Lane in London. In 1753, she played Marcia in Virginia by Samuel Crisp. In 1756, she married fellow actor and later acting-coach, Richard Yates (whose first wife had died in 1753). For the next 13 years, from 1754 to 1767, Mary Ann Yates worked at the theater, performing in a variety of Shakespearean tragedies and histories, including Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra, Imogen in Cymbeline: King of Britain, Cordelia in KingLear, Desdemona in Othello, Constance in The Life and Death of King John, and Anne Boleyn in The Life of King Henry VIII. Yates also appeared in Shakespearean comedies, including Rosalind in As You Like It, Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Perdita in The Winter's Tale. Her popularity at Drury Lane increased following the death of the luminary Susannah Cibber in 1766.

In 1767, Yates moved to the stage of Covent Garden in London, where she worked until 1771. There she appeared as Lady Macbeth, Gertrude in Hamlet, Isabella in the comedy Measure for Measure, and Portia in The Merchant of Venice. She won particular acclaim for her role as Medea in playwright Richard Glover's tragedy. In 1774, Yates spent a year co-managing the Haymarket Opera House in London. Several years later, in 1777, she originated the role of Berinthia in Trip to Scarborough by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, a playwright who produced many of his comedies at Drury Lane. Yates' final stage appearance was a benefit performance for George Anne Bellamy at the Drury Lane in 1785. She died two years later, in 1787.


The Concise Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Hartnoll, Phyllis, ed. The Oxford Companion to the Theatre. 3rd ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.

Cyndia Zwahlen , editor and writer, Phoenix, Arizona