Naturalism Terms (1990) as ‘a more deliberate kind of

Naturalism is
defined by the Oxford Dictionary of
Literary Terms (1990) as ‘a more
deliberate kind of realism in novels, stories, and plays, usually involving a
view of human beings as passive victims of natural forces and social environment’
(Baldick, p.221). The dictionary states that naturalistic drama in particular
‘usually has a broader application, denoting a very detailed illusion of real
life on the stage, especially in speech, costume, and sets’ (Baldick, p.221). On
the other hand, melodrama is defined as ‘a popular form of sensational drama
that flourished in the 19th-century theatre … the modern sense of
melodrama derives: an emotionally exaggerated conflict of pure maidenhood and
scheming villainy in a plot full of suspense’ (Baldick, p.201).

 

  The term melodrama originated
from the early nineteenth-century French word mélodrame, which is derived from
Greek melos, which means melody, and French drame, which means drama. Moreover,
many of the elements of a melodrama are
thought to have originated in the fifth century B.C. Melodrama emerged from
eighteenth-century sentimental dramas in Germany and France that
involved music, and became popular between the seventeen-eighties and
the seventeen-nineties, with its popularity lasting until the early twentieth-century.
In terms of early European theatre, the term melodrama was used to describe
scenes of mime or dialogue which were accompanied by music. However, the more
modern definition in the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms
comes from the early nineteenth century, where the melodramatic plays being
performed in London were somewhat simplified adaptations of Gothic novels. Melodrama
means ‘song-drama’ in Greek, so therefore the use of music is understandably a very
important feature. It is used to the increase emotions of the audience, as well
as to signify different characters. Pisani says in his essay ‘Music for the theatre: style and function in incidental
music’ that:

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Music was used to assist the actors in establishing and
sustaining the emotional pitch at any given moment of a play… Such music may
also create mood and atmosphere, convey time and place, or suggest status,
ethnicity, or class. (Pisani, p.71)
 

This highlights
the importance of music in the early melodramatic plays. It was used for many purposes,
but the main purpose was to influence the emotions of the audience and represent
the different characters.

 

  The melodramatic style
consists of short scenes combined with the musical accompaniments of an
orchestra, and later a musical score. Melodramas take complicated concepts
and themes, such as love or war, and reduce them to more simple concepts. They usually are structured around a simple morality, with
good and evil characters. Good and evil are embodied in stock characters
who are, more often than not, exclusively one or the other. The characters are often very stereotypical,
and there is always a hero, a villain and a damsel in distress. In the plays, good is always threatened by
evil and the majority of the time good triumphs over evil in the end. Moreover,
no matter how much danger the hero or heroine is in, there is a happy ending.
The heroines are virtuous characters, and the heroes are always brave. Villains
are immoral, and the heroes are always successful. An episodic
form is also a major feature of melodramas, and they are often very simplistic.
There was a deliberate departure from
and reaction against strict neoclassical rules, stemming from Aristotle. Lastly, melodramas usually contain less
than five acts, with the most common being three acts. The more “serious”
dramas are the ones that typically contain the full five acts.

 

  There are different types of melodrama, such
as disaster melodramas, which
include natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and fires. Nautical
melodramas, which were an English form that was popular in the
eighteen-twenties and thirties, contained nautical elements such as sailors,
pirates, and lawlessness. Thirdly, there were animal melodramas, which
included animals such as dogs and horses, and the actual animals were
often onstage. Domestic melodramas contained more serious subject matter
such as adultery, illegitimacy, and romantic themes. These are the most
common type of melodrama. Lastly, there were sensation melodramas, which emerged
from sensation novels of the eighteen-sixties and seventies and often contained
themes such as love and murder.

The acting, most
scholars argue, was a presentational style
of acting where the actor acknowledges the audience, which breaks the
fourth wall. Moreover, there was exaggerated movement with large,
over-the-top gestures and highly emotional vocal and facial expressions,
which was mainly used because the size of the stages in the nineteenth-century
were significantly bigger than before, due to advances in architecture during
the Industrial Revolution. As for the staging, there was sometimes more than a
hundred cast members, and the key plot elements always occurred on stage in front
of the audience. There were also often moving panoramas, which were also
due to the advances in techniques during the Industrial Revolution. This gave
an air of sensationalism to the plays, however, they also made them more
unrealistic.

 

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