Tuesday, 12 September 2017

"M" is for Melodrama

Dramatic? Melodrama? How very dare you. Melodrama was not merely dramatic. It was an excessive banquet of expression and overacting, with an overdone happy ending for pudding. 

Melodrama was a type of play popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Character development tended to be more or less non-existant, with the plays using the typical stock characters - the handsome hero, the morally virtuous heroine, the evil villain - as mere props to play out incredibly convoluted plots. The drama is amped up and emotions run high. It's as if the world is on the edge of the apocalypse and every action, every word, every breath could tip it over. 

The term is often used pejoratively to describe a work that a reviewer feels is overdone, but melodramas are not intrinsically bad. Sure, in their purest form they were cliched and over the top, but they made people laugh. The whole idea of melodrama was to inspire the audience to great heights of emotion.

Elements of melodrama found their way into Gothic novels and today they live on in everything from soap operas and popular films, such as romcoms.

Examples of melodramas include:
  • The Rent Day by Douglas William Jerrold
  • Despite the genre being named after his time, many of Shakespeare's plays include elements of melodrama. 
Can you think of any melodramas?