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. On this page you will find melodrama resources for students and teachers. – Justin Cash
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.
Useful article discussing the various definitions, meanings, interpretations and uses of the word “melodrama” over the years.
Excellent melodrama resources including a teaching unit suitable for upper primary or lower secondary school.
Brief overview of melodrama with useful information about the form’s key features and its link some of the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan.
Interesting article detailing the history of melodrama in the theatre and its inclusion in mainstream opera.
Accessible overview of the history of melodrama for students.
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.
In drama, the characters should determine the story. In melodrama, the story determines the characters.
Sidney Lumet, American Film Director & Screenwriter
List of notable 19th century melodrama plays including Uncle Tom’s Cabin and others.
Useful notes on the numerous characteristics of melodrama including different types, writers, staging and trends in 19th century theatre.
Summary extract identifying exactly how melodramas were performed, particularly the combination of music and the spoken text.
Useful twelve-lesson teaching unit on melodrama for junior secondary school students.