20 Crazy Melodrama Resources for Teachers and Students

Melodrama, derived from the Greek word “melos” (music) and the French word “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


Melodrama Resources

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

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A comprehensive summary of this 19th-century form includes acting, plot formula, theatres, staging and adapted works.

Useful article discussing the various definitions, meanings, interpretations and uses of the term over the years.

Melodrama

Excellent resources including a teaching unit suitable for upper primary or lower secondary school.

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

Melodrama is a form of music drama that developed in the late eighteenth century, flourished on the Victorian stage, and is still a dominant mode today. Melodrama’s focus is on ordinary people, who speak in prose, and the plays are intended for a popular audience. A theater of spectacle, scenic elaboration, and special effects, melodrama aims to engender an intense affective response in its audience. Gesture, declamation, music, and tableaux formally organize the audience’s response, which alternates between absorption and shock. A more or less fixed set of stock characters engage in plots rife with action, suspense, and pathos. A mixed genre, potential tragedy alleviated by its signature happy ending, melodrama mediates new forms of social life in post-Enlightenment, postrevolutionary modernity, encouraging the belief that crime will be punished and virtue recognized and rewarded. The histories of melodrama and realist fiction are deeply intertwined, and melodrama makes a definitive contribution to the rise of cinema.
Carolyn Williams
Rutgers University

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

An interesting article detailing the history of the genre in the theatre and its inclusion in mainstream opera.

An accessible overview of the history of this genre for students.

A modern melodrama is a dramatic work in which the plot, typically sensationalized and for a strong emotional appeal, takes precedence over detailed characterization. Melodramas typically concentrate on dialogue that is often bombastic or excessively sentimental, rather than action. Characters are often flat, and written to fulfill stereotypes. Melodramas are typically set in the private sphere of the home, focusing on morality and family issues, love, and marriage, often with challenges from an outside source, such as a “temptress”, a scoundrel, or an aristocratic villain. A melodrama on stage, filmed, or on television is usually accompanied by dramatic and suggestive music that offers cues to the audience of the drama being presented.
Wikipedia

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

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

Melodrama Poster
Historical poster

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

List of notable 19th-century plays including Uncle Tom’s Cabin and others.

In drama, the characters should determine the story. In melodrama, the story determines the characters.
Sidney Lumet
American Film Director & Screenwriter

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

Muppet Melodrama Pts. 1 & 2

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

A useful twelve-lesson teaching unit for junior secondary school students.


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