- noun drama with exaggerated acting, extreme emotions and often comic overreaction
- A form of sensational play that swept Europe in the 19th century.Mass audiences were attracted by its emphasis on fast implausibleaction and larger-than-life heroes and villains.
The term (from Greek melos, song and drama,action) was introduced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau to mean an entertainmentin which dialogue was spoken to background music (see mélodrame).In the late 18th century August Kotzebue (1761 - 1819) wrote numeroussentimental melodramas in Germany, while Guilbert de Pixérécourt(1773 - 1844) developed the form in France. British melodramaswere often adaptions of Continental works; examples include Dion Boucicault'sThe Corsican Brothers (1852), which was based on a Frenchplay of revenge.
In the mid 19th century the genre broadened to include domestictragedies, realistic dramas set in the slums, moralizing works suchas Uncle Tom's Cabin, and entertainments based on spectacularshipwrecks and disasters.
By the turn of the 20th century, theatregoers had begun to expectgreater realism. Exaggerated plots and over-emotional acting soonsurvived only in grand opera and classical ballet, as well as in thenew mass medium of cinema. One of the purest forms of melodrama wasthe cliff-hanging Hollywood serial, as exemplified by The Perilsof Pauline (1914). Many of the elements of 19th-century melodramawere revived in television soap operas, such as Dallas and Dynastyin the 1980s.