Guide to Literary Terms

Start Free Trial

What is the definition of melodrama?

The definition of melodrama is a literary work with a sensational plot and simplistic characters.

Guide to Literary Terms Study Tools

Take a quiz Ask a question Start an essay

Melodrama

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated May 26, 2023.

A melodrama is a work of literature in which extreme emotions and intense action are prioritized over realistic character development. Melodramas often rely on stock characters like heroes and villains.

The word melodrama first appeared in French as mélodrame, deriving from the Greek word melos ("song") and the French word drame ("drama"), which comes from the Greek word drama ("action, spectacle, play"), from drāo (to act, to perform, to do, to make"). 

Emily Brontë's novel Wuthering Heights is often described as melodramatic:

Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living! You said I killed you—haunt me then! The murdered do haunt their murderers. I believe—I know that ghosts have wandered the earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!

- Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

In this quote, Heathcliff passionately expresses his longing and anguish for Catherine, who has passed away. The intense and dramatic language emphasizes the heightened emotions and melodramatic nature of their relationship. Heathcliff's plea to be haunted by Catherine's ghost and his desperate desire for her presence showcases the exaggerated and intense emotions characteristic of melodrama.

see: characterization

Explore all literary terms.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Previous

Malapropism

Next

Metaphor