Melodramatic Theater – Representatives, Characteristics and Evolution


What is melodramatic theater?

A melodrama in theater, is a dramatic work that exaggerates plot and characters to appeal to the emotions, often with strongly stereotyped characters. Language, behavior, or events that resemble melodramas are also called melodramatic. In academic and historical musical contexts melodramas are 18th- and 19th-century dramas in which orchestral music or songs were used to accompany the action.

Melodrama is a style of drama that has been applied on stage, in film and television, and in radio formats, from the 18th century to the present. Because of the length of time this style of drama has existed, it is difficult to obtain a precise definition. The term melodrama is most often used pejoratively in the theater, to suggest that the play to which the term is applied lacks sophistication or subtlety. The term originated from the early 19th century French word mélodrame, which derives from the Greek melos, music, and the French dramatique, drama.

Definition of Melodramatic Theater

Melodramatic theater is a subgenre of dramatic theater, which is an exaggerated form of this genre of theater. Melodramas deal with sensational and romantic themes that appeal to the emotions of the common audience. Originally, it made use of melody and music, while modern melodramatic theaters may not contain any music at all.

In fact, melodramatic theater gives preference to detailed characterization where characters are simply drawn, one-dimensional or stereotyped. Typically, melodrama uses stock characters, including heroes, heroines and villains.

In melodramatic theater, playwrights enhance plot lines in order to tug at the audience’s heart strings. Typically, this type of dramatic theater focuses on sensational plots revolving around tragedy, unrequited love, loss or exacerbated emotion, featuring long-suffering protagonists, especially women, trying in vain to overcome impossible odds.

How did melodramatic theater develop?

Melodramatic theater was the main form of theater during the 19th century, despite other influences, becoming the most popular in 1840. Melodrama continues today as a very prominent form of theater.

In the early 19th century, most melodramatic theater was romantic, exotic, and supernatural. By 1820, it became more familiar in settings and characters. However, by the 1830s, it became more elevated with gentlemanly melodrama.

The trend of melodramatic theater in the 19th century was the typical producing organization of the resident company that performed a large number of plays each season, until the end of the 19th century. Then, the stock companies appeared, in which, the actors together played a wide variety of roles in many plays. In this trend, guest stars, touring companies, and long runs could be found.

The star system, after 1810, was popular because, English actors toured with American companies as stars, and played famous roles with resident companies.

Definition of Melodramatic Theater

Characteristics of melodramatic theater

One of the main characteristics of melodramatic theater is that the characters are simplified, drawn without psychological depth, and larger than life. Likewise, a set of standard characters that fit the roles of the action, such as villains, good guys, damsels in distress, helpers, among others.

Likewise, the plots are implausible, with sudden and obviously contrived turns of events, plus there is throughout the scenes, a lot of tension to end in relief.

In general, melodramatic theater is developed with moral stories that illustrate a battle between good and evil, in which good would triumph and bring morality or justice to society. Instead of having realistic characters, melodrama had what are known as stock characters, or characters based on established personalities or stereotypes.

Legacy of Melodramatic Theater

In melodramatic theater plays that seem to contain certain conventions and characteristics that are repeated from play to play. So there is a fairly wide spectrum of dramas with nautical themes, dramas about industry or fallen women. The generic term melodramatic theater tends to be applied to a wide variety of 19th century plays.

Melodramatic theater became the most popular form of theater throughout the 19th century and is probably the most performed genre of dramatic theater not only in Britain, but also in Europe, Australasia, and North America. So you’re really talking about a genre that has had an extraordinarily broad impact historically.

The other big background influence on melodramatic theater is the industrial revolution. It’s very interesting that as people moved to the cities, there has to be more entertainment and certainly when people work long hours, they would rather maybe go see a melodramatic play rather than something a little bit heavier.

Representatives of this theater

One of the representatives of melodramatic theater, in Western theater, is the sentimental dramatic theater with an improbable plot that concerns the vicissitudes suffered by the virtuous at the hands of villains but which ends happily with virtue triumphant.

With stock characters such as the noble hero, the long-suffering heroine and the cold-blooded villain, melodramatic theater focuses not on character development but on sensational incidents and spectacular staging. In melodramatic musical theater, melodrama means spoken lines with a musical accompaniment.