Melodrama, derived from the Greek “melos” (music) and the French “drame” (drama) was a form of theatrical entertainment popular in Europe and America from the late 1700s to the early 1900s. While melodramatic plots were often romantic depictions of everyday life showcasing heightened emotions (stemming from earlier sentimental dramas), the staging of these was nothing short of spectacular. Recent advances in theatre technologies allowed for elaborate stage machinery including trapdoors, pyrotechnics and flying scenery. Added to this was the use of horses and other animals on stage. Characters were usually archetypal figures such as villains, victims and heroes. – Justin Cash

The Drama Teacher

Article outlining various aspects of 19th century melodramas including plot elements, acting style, devices/conventions, characters and staging.

Comprehensive summary of 19th century melodrama including acting, plot formula, theatres, staging and adapted works.


University of Central Florida

Notable 19the century melodrama plays including Uncle Tom’s Cabin and others.

Pennsylvania State University

Excellent historical account of melodrama as a theatre form both in England and America. A comprehensive and detailed analysis which includes theatrical posters, notable plays and playwrights, conventions, key elements etc.


Entry on melodrama outlining its characteristics, origins and links to operetta and opera.

Useful article discussing the various definitions, meanings, interpretations and uses of the word “melodrama” over the years.

Mark Eckersley

Brief overview of melodrama with useful information about the form’s key features and its link some of the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan.

NSW Department of Education

Series of teaching units for Year 7/8 and 9/10 on melodrama including
background and structure, stock characters, and voice and asides. Also includes an overview of melodrama student resource and cards for key terms in melodrama.

Northern Virginia Community College

Useful notes on the numerous characteristics of melodrama including different types, writers, staging and trends in 19th century theatre.

The Cambridge History of Victorian Literature

Summary extract identifying exactly how melodramas were performed, particularly the combination of music and the spoken text.


Australian Catholic University

Archived lecture notes introducing 19th century melodrama. Also includes an overview outlining the defining elements of the form.

The Guardian

Interesting article detailing the history of melodrama in the theatre and its inclusion in mainstream opera.

Britannica Kids

Accessible overview of the history of melodrama.

Literary Terms

Introduction to melodrama as a literary term.