By Muhammad Faseeh ul Hassan


Melodrama also called as “song drama”, contains the sensationalism and the extravagant emotional appeal which raises the emotions of the common audiences. The flourishing of melodrama in the 19th century produced a kind of naively sensational entertainment in which the main characters were excessively virtuous or exceptionally evil ( hence the luminously good hero or heroine and villain of deepest and the darkest dye). An abundance of blood, thunder, thrills, vampires and many a skeleton from the supernatural cupboard, and also a sordid realism in the shape of extravagant tales of the wickedness of drinking, gambling and murdering.


The origin of the melodrama coincides roughly with the origin of opera in Italy very late in the 16th century. Opera developed from an attempt to revive Classical tragedy, and the mixture of music and drama was either opera or melodrama. In the 18th Century Handel called some of his works opera and some melodrama. Towards the end of the 18th century, French dramatist began to develop melodrama as a distinct genre by elaborating the dialogue and making much more of spectacle, action and violence. During the nineteenth century, music and singing were steadily eliminated. Developments in the theatre brought greater realism , more emphasis laid on the spectacular—e.g., snowstorms, shipwrecks, battles, train wrecks, conflagrations, earthquakes, and horse races.

One of the fundamental impacts from prior of the century was presumably the gloomy tragedies of Crébillon. Some of the more notable examples of inchoate melodrama were Rousseau‘s Pygmalion (1775), Gabiot’s L’ Auto-da-Fé (1790) and Gilbert de Pixerecourt‘s Caelina, ou l’ enfant du mystere (1800). The Gothic element in the work of Goethe and Schiller, plus, the increasing vogue of the Gothic Novel and the popularity of M.G.’Monk’ Lewis’s melodrama The Castle Spectre (1797), all contributed to produce and extraordinary number of melodramas on the English stage during the the 19th century, a period during which very large number of novels (by Scott, Reade, Dickens, Wilkie Collins and others) were adapted for stage in the from of melodrama.

Notable Works

Among the hundreds of extant examples of the form, the following are the some of the better known: Thomas Holcroft’s A Tale of Mystery (1802) ; Douglas Jerrold’s Black-Ey’d Susan (1829); Maria Marten; or, The Murder in the Red Barn (1830) a classic melodrama which was worked over a number of times; Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1842); Boucicault’s The Corsican Brothers (1852), Ten Nights in a Bar Room (1858), The Colleen Bawn (1859); Miss Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (1863); Mrs Henry Wood’s novel The Bells (1871); William Terriss’s The Bells of Hazlemere (1887); and many more.

Mention should also be made of the Shaw’s “intellectual” melodrama The Devil’s Disciple, and his Passion, Poison and Petrification, or The Fatal Gazogene, a short skit on some of the more grotesque features of the Victorian melodrama.

Since about the 1920s the cinema ha largely ousted melodrama from the stage, but the melodramatic can still draw large and appreciative audiances. Memorable successes between the wars were Patrick Hamilton’s Rope (1929) and Gaslight (1938), and Edgar Wallace‘s On The Spot (1930) and The case of the Frightened Lady (1931). Post-Second World War varieties of melodrama have been distinguished and include Sartre‘s ‘intellectual’ melodrama Crime Passionel (1948) and Joe Orton‘s Loot (1967).

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