It’s A Kind of Magic: The Books of Renaissance Magician John Dee Go On Display


One of the courses I was teaching last semester was Renaissance Literature and the most enjoyable part was the exploration of magic on stage from Dr Faustus to The Tempest and the magical statue scene in A Winter’s Tale. The influence of real life magicians on playwrights such as Shakespeare and Marlowe was not lost on the students and we had many interesting discussions about the conjurer John Dee. I was thrilled therefore to see a recent article by Mark Brown, Arts Correspondent in The Guardian, on John Dee in which he explains that:

Dee, known in his day as “the Queen’s conjuror”, was one of the most extraordinary Elizabethans, a Renaissance polymath who has fascinated people for centuries. He may have been the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Prospero in The Tempest, and more recently he has intrigued artists such as Derek Jarman, who had him as a central character in his 1978 film Jubilee, and Damon Albarn, who wrote the 2011 opera Dr Dee.

At the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) headquarters in London, where remarkable books from Dee’s personal collection go on public display for the first time, there is further intrigue as recent research tells us that a John Dee painting originally had circle of human skulls, x-ray imaging reveals Those interested in Harry Potter wizardry might like to consider the real history of magic here in the UK through figures such a John Dee….it’s absolutely extraordinary.

About Sam George

Associate Professor of Research, School of Humanities, University of Hertfordshire Co-convenor OGOM Project
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6 Responses to It’s A Kind of Magic: The Books of Renaissance Magician John Dee Go On Display

  1. firekrank says:

    This is so interesting and intriguing. I will have to ask my colleagues at the Globe about magic in Shakespeare’s works. My good friend and colleague Jon Kaneko-James wrote this blog ( on Magic Circles which are mentioned in ‘Dr. Faustus’. It might be of some interest.

    • William the Bloody says:

      Let us know what you discover, Kaja–a post on Renaissance magic and its dramatic representations would be fascinating

    • Lucy Northenra says:

      Thanks Kaja, yes there is lots of scope for further research here. A very rich and fascinating area. A good project for collaboration with The Globe too!

  2. William the Bloody says:

    John Dee features in many fantasy fictions, particularly the alternative history type. I can’t bring any to mind at the moment, however–perhaps someone can jolt my memory?

    I saw Damon Albern’s opera and it was fascinating, though flawed in its construction, I think. Great music though.

  3. William the Bloody says:

    I think John Dee features in a Michael Moorcock fantasy. But he’s also the subject of the historian Deborah Harkness’s John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature:

    Harkness has also written a witch-vampire romance trilogy; the second book, Shadow of Night, draws on her research on Dee.

  4. Lucy Northenra says:

    This is fascinating…Thank you. I think the next OGOM should be on magic so we can broaden it out from witches and also include other magical beings. Perhaps tie in with Dark Arts journal….The Harry Potter studios are close at hand too and I’m sure delegates would enjoy a tour!!

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