Melodrama is a genre developed in the 1800s, with the purpose of entertaining audiences through the presentation of situations that concur with the following characteristics:
A mystery or problem to be resolved in the end for the benefit of the good and the just.
- Villains versus heroes
- A fair or happy ending
- The combination of human emotions
- A three-act format, as minimum
With these elements alone, we can certainly see how melodramatic characteristics are evident in Lady Windermere's Fan.
Lord and Lady Windermere seem to be the victims of the cunning Mrs. Erlynne, who is using Lord Windermere for her own agenda. As a result, Lady Windermere suffers, the marriage obviously suffers, and society basically witnesses what could be an open affair: Something humilliating to Lady Windermere.
The happy ending comes in the end when Mrs. Erlynne goes through a change of heart from meanness to kindness and saves her daughter's (Lady Windermere's) marriage by sacrificing herself and her dignity. When Lady Windermere decides to get back at her husband for his presumed infidelity, she does it by showing up at Lord Darlington's. Mrs. Erlynneenters the scene, begs Lady W. to not continue with her plan and changes her mind. When Lord Darlington returns with his male friends to his bachelor apartment , Mrs. Erlynne comes out, giving the impression that she wanted to be Lord Darlington's lover. This is a social faux pas that would have fallen on Lady W. This is the way that the ending is fair for the "heroine".
Human emotions are all over the play, but mostly for the sake of saving the reputation of Lady Windermere from what society would have had coming to her. Jealousy in all parts, animosity, and the forbidden passion of Lord Darlington color the main topics of the play.
Aside from the three-act format that is typical of Oscar Wilde, 19th century melodrama is also represented in comedies of manners. Although comedy and melodrama are opposite genres, a melodrama may include elements of the comedy of manners, such as a criticism of society and the social scene of London. This is also very obvious in the play particularly when the Duchess of Berwick asks Lady Windermere to forgive her husband's possible affair since, after all, her own husband had to become entertained in the same manner.
This being said, Lady Windermere's Fan certainly features melodramatic elements that help shape, color, and provide an atmosphere to the overall theme.