Guide to Literary Terms

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Melodrama

Melodrama - a form of play that intensifies sentiment, exaggerates emotions, and relates sensational and thrilling action with four basic sharply contrasted and simplified characters: the hero, the heroine, their comic ally, and a villain. The action is constantly kept at high tension.

The term is from the French melodrame which was derived from the Greek melos, meaning “song.”

Originally, melodramas were Roman plays with music, song, and dance. In the Eighteenth Century, the form evolved into productions with elaborate but oversimplified and coincidental romantic plots without regard for character development or logic, but having much sentimentality and sometimes a happy ending. The first in England was the 1802 A Tale of Mystery. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written in 1853, is also considered a melodrama.