When the Golden Bough Breaks: Folk Drama and the Theatre Historian

Tom Pettitt


The title of Tom Pettitt's essay alludes to the massive impact on theatre historians of Sir James Frazer's monumental work on comparative anthropology, The Golden Bough (1890). It fostered the thesis that English folk drama preserves a pre-Christian fertility ritual, which may in turn have been the point of departure for the evolutionary process culminating with Shakespeare and the Elizabethan theatre. When the anthropological bough breaks, the theatrical cradle must fall, and the essay urges a reassessment of the significance of folk drama in the appreciation of Elizabethan plays, against the background of a renegotiation of its place in theatre history freed of presuppositions about ritual origins.


Tom Pettitt; Thomas Pettitt; folk drama; theatre history

Full Text: PDF