Forms of Theater Arts: Melodrama

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Through strong dramatic plots, characters and music, melodrama has created an engaging, well-developed form of theatre. But melodrama is not limited to one category. Like other forms of the theatre arts, melodrama can be further broken down into Victorian melodrama and Modern melodrama. As the names entail, Victorian melodrama was practiced in the Victorian Era (1837-1901) whereas Modern melodrama is still being performed today. Both equally exaggerated and emphasizing the good vs. evil conflict, these two forms of melodrama have shaped the stage theatrically and developed complexity in character and plot development.
When theatre-goers hear the word “melodrama”, visions of mustached villains tying a helpless damsel in distress down to train tracks are conjured up. Thought as cheesy, corny, soap opera-like, these stereotypes give a false representation of what the core of melodrama is. Traditionally, melodrama is written in a two-dimensional world, with a hero who is always “good” and a villain who is always “evil.” Without any ambiguity, it is clear who these main characters are by their actions, attire, presentation and music. The plot of the play is strongly developed with enthralling, intense and often emotional conflicts. Of course, there are several theatrical scenes leading up to the climax of the melodrama where good triumphs evil, evil is punished and a moral lesson is instilled. This, the basis of melodrama, has laid the foundation for identifiable character development and strong, engaging plots in any form of theatre today.
A more defined and refined version of melodrama, Victorian melodrama is a little more specific and complex in its the development and definition of its characters. Featuring six stock characters, there is the hero, the villain, the heroine, the sidekick, the elderly parent, and the servant of the parent. Generally, the plots of Victorian melodrama are focused on the theme of love and the conflicting mystery of murder, set to an overdramatic musical score. The courageous, yet not very bright, hero is hoodwinked by the devious villain, who is head over heels in love with the heroine. Yet, in every melodrama, good triumphs over evil in a climatic situation and the hero and heroine live happily ever after, with the villain locked away.
In contrast to melodrama and Victorian melodrama, Modern melodrama is an incarnation of both forms. Although the music has been removed, this updated version still holds true to its theatrical roots. In sitcoms and movies, melodrama is still exhibited through stereotypical characters and exaggerated conflicts, reactions and emotions.

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