American Melodrama

Discussion of the origins, evolution and impact of American melodrama.

Perhaps the most concise definition of a melodrama is that it is basically a theatrical performance consisting of a romantic plot in which the author manipulates events in order to act upon the emotions of the audience without very much professional regard for either character development, character motivation, plot consistency, or common logic. In the early years of the Nineteenth Century most of the melodramas presented in American theaters were romantic, exotic, or supernatural. By the 1820’s the style had evolved somewhat regarding types of settings and traits of characters, and by the 1830’s the content of melodramas had become much more elevated and gentlemanly compared to those popular a generation earlier.