Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Meiningen Theatre, Antoine, Brahm and the Birth of Realism in Theatre

The Meiningen Theatre, Antoine, Brahm and the Birth of Realism in Theatre

Some theatre commentators maintain that realism has always been a part of theatre and theatre practice (Carter 2010:15-16). It can be imagined that Shakespeare is evoking a measured balanced style of naturalistic acting when he had his contemporary and main actor Richard Burbage give advice to the Players as the character of Hamlet when he says of acting ' ...hold the mirror up to nature...' and ' not saw the air too much with your hand, thus, but use it gently...' (Hamlet Act III, scene ii). Others see the birth of realism in theatre as aligned to the change in modern perceptions of reality prompted by the invention of and popularity of the phonograph invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison and photography which started with Frenchman Jospeh Niepce's invention of the first permanent photograph in 1826. Many theatre historians and theorists including Cole (Cole 1972:8) see the birth of realism in theatre as intergrally linked to the rise of the director or regisseur at the dawn of the Realist movement.

There is no doubt that Realism saw the development of the director as a seperate entity, someone with an eye to oversee, someone responsible for the overall conception, interpretation, style and detail of the theatrical performance. The Meiningen Ensemble from its roots in the late 1830's under the directorships of Georg II (Duke of Sax-Meiningen) and Ludwig Chronegk, proceeded to develop a theatre company bereft of theatre-managers and the star system. A system centred on realistic acting and staging and well-developed 'unified' productions. The Ensemble which began as a court theatre but started touring in 1874, used detailed research of people, locations, costumes and set, along with highly choreographed and individually detailed crowd scenes, to create productions which were aesthically unified and realistic in their presentations.

In an article for the Deutsche Buhne (Braun 1986:37), the Duke outlined his principles for directing a play, the most important were:
                the creation of a Stage Picture (the picturial effect created by the synthesis of the actors with the set and props)
                historical exactitude in the mise en scene
                an acting style which used Precise Gestural and Vocal Imitation
                the use of Period or Authentic Clothing and Costumes
                the use of Group Orchestration by precise planning and direction of all group and crowd scenes
(Braun 1986)

The initial aim of the Meiningen Ensemble was to create, within the context of an ensemble, historical exactitude of the mise en scene. The Meiningen company sought to create the illusion of natural space within the confines of the proscenium arch. Duke Georg was concerned mainly with creating a naturalistic illusory atmosphere where the actor could establish or re-create authenticity in performance. Chronegk and the Duke prepared sketches and diagrams showing actors how to walk and move in period clothing to achieve a naturalistic feel to stage characterization. The Meiningen productions influenced playwrights like Henrik Ibsen, actors like Henry Irving and directors like Antoine and Stanislavski.
"He (Duke George II) eventually convinced every director in Europe... that the fundamental problem to be answered by the scene designer is not, What will my setting look like and How will the actor look in it but What will my setting make the actor do?" (Braun 1986:38).

The conventions of realism for the Meiningen seemed to create the means by which a theatre artist creates the illusion of everyday life. They saw that art should copy science by depicting life 'as it is' without direct comment, interpretation and the structural edifice of the well made play. The Duke believed that a life-like reality was achieved on stage through a careful study of the play and showing this in stage movement, composition and stage business. His major contribution to the stage was not just his use of realistic settings and costumes but in the way he tried to use and integrate performers as part of the mise en scene. The use of costume did not merely reflect historical accuracy but attempted to help actors perform in a style and mode which integrated with other elements. He demanded that all the actors were at most rehearsals and he carefully worked out the actions of even everyone in crowd scenes. Individual members of crowds and main actors alike were expected to provide specific research and character analysis related to the events depicted on stage.


From the Meiningen Ensemble productions, Andre Antoine learnt the strengths of ensemble playing and the power of creating an authentic 'stage picture'. Antoine's 'slice of life' productions were characterized by their conversational language and gritty realism. In 1887, he founded the Theatre Libre, a company which did not believe in censorship and put on many plays which other companies could or would not including Ibsen's Ghosts (1890), Strindberg's Miss Julie (1893). The company believed in only short runs of plays but breadth of repertoire and more than 100 plays by over 50 playwrights were performed in the seven years of the Theatre Libre's guidance under Antoine. When working on foreign language works, Antoine insisted on commissioning his own translations. With his 1893 production of Strindberg's Miss Julie, he not only commissioned a new specific translation, but he also spent considerable time and money translating Strindberg's philosophical preface to the play (Braun 1986:28).

The work of the Theatre Libre was said to embrace both Realism and Naturalism. In theatre, Realism is generally thought to be a 19th century movement which uses dramatic and stylistic conventions to bring authenticity and 'real life' to performances and drama texts while Naturalism is commonly seen as an extension to this where an attempt is made to create a perfect illusion of reality. Naturalism is often said to be driven by Darwinism and its view of humans as behavioral creatures shaped by heredity and environment. Antoine believed that our environment determines our character and he would often start rehearsals by creating the set, settings or environment which would then allow his actors to explore their characters and their behaviors with greater authenticity. Often he would only hire untrained actors (a practice still common with young film makers) since he believed that the professional actors of his time could not realistically portray real people.

Antoine's Theatre Libre dedicated itself more specifically to the Quart d'heure or short, simple, free, episodic, one act play performances. he concentrated on script development but advocated naturalistic, behavioral acting dependent on the interaction of actors and helping acting to find their psychological motivations. Discussions on matters of interpretation and setting were a normal part of rehearsals with actors. Antoine believed each play had its unique mood or atmosphere and he hardly ever reused sets and settings. He also literally believed in the notion of removing the fourth wall. With some plays he would rehearse in the space with four walls around the action, natural set and actors and then decide which fourth wall to remove and thus deciding which side or perspective to place the audience on.

Production detail was also innovative in Antoine's Theatre Libre. He would use real props, sets and costumes and he even used real beef carcasses on stage for his 1888 production of The Butchers. Realistic props, set and costuming were complimented by the acting and staging techniques used by Antoine. Theatrical lighting and footlights were often replaced by more naturalistic forms of light.
"...In the final tableau, Antoine used candlelight alone, with the house in complete darkness. During the cross-examination... the actors were seen as little more than silhouettes." (Braun 1986:31)

After bankruptcy, Antoine had to give up direction of the Theatre Libre. He took up work at the Gymnase and Odeon theatres but by 1915 he had started to turn his naturalistic techniques to cinema adapting dramatic and literary pieces to the cinema such as La Terre ('Earth') and Les Frères corses ('The Corsican Brothers'). 

The German critic and scholar Otto Brahm, was inspired by the work of Antoine and created the Freie Buhne and Deutschebuhne companies in Berlin. These companies became very influential in the development of Naturalism in modern theatre. After reading and hearing about Antoine's productions, Brahm created the Freie Buhne ('Free Stage') theatre company in 1889 starting with stark but realistic production of Ibsen's Ghosts

If the Meiningen had given theatre realistic settings and costuming and Antoine had recovered the playwright and the text as central to drama (a welcome anecdote to the liberal and flippant script adaptation and editing of Victorian Drama) then Brahms contribution to drama was to develop a realistic performance dramaturgy by drawing together the work of a number of people to create a realistic form of acting. As an intelligent but intuitive theatre practitioner, Brahm drew together the Francois Talma's Back Acting Techniques, the theories of Ibsen and the new ideas and techniques put forward by Constantine Stanislavski to attempt to create a new form of drama. He cherished performing new works but he also sort to perform the classics using his naturalistic techniques to reassert their immediacy and contemporary pertinence. Brahm did not see that naturalism should bind itself to realistic setting and he helped to revolutionize the dynamics of the acting space to achieve a confronting naturalism using split levels, asymmetrical spaces and dual thrust stages (Johnson 1972). His 1894 production of Hauptmann's 'The Weavers' is often cited as a pivotal production in modern naturalistic drama.

Brahm's company had no permanent home and Brahm rented various venues and did private moved readings and showcases of mostly new plays. In 1892, he made a declaration to promote a theatre of truth where the soul of the words of drama could be explored and examined. By 1894, he had established himself at the permanent venue of the Deutschebuhne where he started train actors in his own practices as developed from the ideas of Strindberg, Antoine and Stanislavski. He saw that the development of modern playwrights and modern drama was dependent on the actor re-examining and observing life in detail for his/her theatrical creations (Johnston 1972).
"We have created a free stage for modern drama." (Braun 1986)

Brahm rejected the idea of the creating sets before rehearsals and the fixed regiebuch (production book) as he saw these as creating stage dynamics and blocking that stopped the actor from experimenting. He preferred flexible blocking methods and attempted to let a play and production find its own shape through inspiration and intuition. Improvisation was not really part of Brahm's work but rather he believed in the text as paramount and he believed a director's job was to intricately listen to the play as it evolved in rehearsals and to view the evolution of the play through the rehearsal process. His methods attracted a powerful ensemble of actors such as Reicher, Lehmann and the young actor (soon to become director) Reinhardt.

By 1904, Brahm's work at the Deutschebuhne was largely done and he resigned his position to max Reinhardt and moved to the Lessing Theatre where he worked until his death in 1912. By then Naturalism was being challenged by many other forms of drama, but Brahm's great contribution was that he swept the European stage of traditions and techniques which prevented actors and playwrights from embracing in-depth explorations of what contemporary drama could achieve.

Exercises and lessons
·      Choose a script of a play which is naturalistic in its style. Make notes on the specific elements, set, props and costumes in the script and do research into the historical elements of each of these elements and make a design board or a set which uses these elements.
·      Look at photographs, paintings and drawings from the historical period the play is set. Use these for a design board or mood board for the preparation for a production.
·      Get actors to look at photographs, paintings and drawings of people from the period of the play they are researching and get the actors to replicate the postures and gestures of people who are similar to the character they are portraying.
·      Rehearse scenes for a play in an actual building or room which is similar to the actual setting which is portrayed in the play. Either perform the play in this setting or take the elements of this setting and transfer them to the way the actors move and create the sense of space in the actual performance space.
·      Have actors act a scene with their backs to the audience and see if the actors can portray the emotions and changes necessary in a scene with only their voice and their backs. Or take a scene and direct it in the round so that the actor has to realistically act their emotions and actions in a space where they are watched from all sides.
·      Use natural lighting or candle light for the lighting in a scene or throughout a whole play.

Braun, E. 1986. The Director and the Stage - From Naturalism to Grotowski. Methuen Drama. London.

Carter, D. 2010. The Art of Acting. Kamerabooks. Harpenden.

Charnow, S. 2000. Commercial culture and modernist theatre in Fin-de-Siecle Paris: Andre Antoine and the Theatre Libre. Radical History Review. 77. 60-90.

Claus, R. 1981. The Theatre Director Otto Brahm. Ann Arbor Press. Michigan.

Cole, T. & Chinoy, K. (Eds). 1972. Directors on Directing. Vision Press. London.

Eckersley, M. 1995. "A Matter of Style: Naturalistic Theatre Forms" in Mask. Vol. 18, No. 2 Autumn/Winter. Drama Victoria. Melbourne.

Felner, M., & Orenstein, C. (2006). The World of Theatre. Boston, USA: Pearson Education

Hartnoll, P & Found, P. 1996. "Brahm, Otto." The Concise Oxford Companion to the Theatre. 14 Jul. 2011 <>.

Johnston, M. 1963. Directing Methods. Singleton Press. San Paolo.

Knoper, R. 1995. Acting Naturally: Mark Twain in the Culture of Performance. University of California Press. Berkeley. CA.

Talma, F.J. (1883 available in online translation 2001). The Actor's Art.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Peking or Beijing Opera

Peking or Beijing Opera

Peking Opera or Beijing Opera is a traditional Chinese form of theatre which is a hybrid of previous Chinese theatre forms and uses a combination of conventions and forms including singing, music, dancing, acting, mime and acrobatics. The traditional repertoire of Peking or Beijing Opera includes over 1,400 works based around stories from Chinese history, folklore, archetypes and modern forms of this form have embraced contemporary Chinese history, stories and life.

Starting in the late 18th century, Peking or Beijing Opera reached its zenith during the 19th century. Peking Opera or Beijing Opera is one of the national art symbols of China. Beijing Opera has over 200 years of history and originated from a southern local style of Chinese Opera called Huiban. Huiban was extremely popular through out the south of China in the 18th century. Peking or Beijing Opera is said to have begun in 1790, when the ‘Four Great Anhui Troupes’ came together to perform at the 80th birthday of Emperor Qianlong. From this collaboration a new hybrid Chinese performance form was born. Originally, Peking or Beijing Opera was only staged in court but by the late 1820’s some performances were done in public.

When the Communist Party of China finally took power in Mainland China in 1949 after the Chinese Civil War many artistic forms like Peking or Beijing Opera were associated primarily with the Nationalist and imperialist doctrine and many pieces were banned or brought in line with Communist ideology and form. During this period in Mainland China, 8 plays were officially sanctioned including operas such as ‘The Legend of the Red Lantern’. Many of the operas performed in Mainland China at this time took on more revolutionary and proletarian ideology and often the endings were changed to reflect Communist messages and themes. Meanwhile in Taiwan, the opera form became a political symbol of the Kuomintang Government’s claims to being the sole representative of authentic China and Chinese Culture. The political use of Peking Opera in this way was often at the expense of more indigenous aspects of Taiwanese cultural forms. In British Hong Kong, Peking Opera was treated as a traditional Chinese form and specific more traditional forms of the opera were encouraged there during this period.

By the end of the Cultural Revolution in Mainland China in the late 1970’s, Peking or Beijing Opera started to make resurgence in its more traditional forms and by the early 1980’s traditional stories, songs and acrobatic forms started to dominate performances of Peking or Beijing Opera in Mainland China.  However, the archaic forms of language used in the operas, along with a decline in the skill of performers and audience numbers coupled with the popularity of television and more modern entertainment forms, meant that by the late 1980’s, Peking or Beijing Opera started to become a less popular and less performed theatrical art. The 1990’s saw a resurgence in the form as it once again hybridized and adopted more popular forms and regional and foreign techniques and conventions. Troupes like the Shanghai Peking Opera Company started to perform in large free public performances. Peking or Beijing Opera dancers performed at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony and a Kunqu Chinese Opera (an older form of Chinese Opera and a precursor to Peking or Beijing Opera) sequence also appeared in this opening ceremony. Today an entire mainland Chinese television station is dedicated to broadcasting peking or Beijing Opera - Channel CCTV-11.

Although Peking or Beijing Opera was initially only performed by males, the female performers who imitated the male roles eventually developed some popularity in the late 19th century and in 1894, a sanctioned theatre showcasing female performers was established in Shanghai. The ban on female performers was officially lifted in 1912. Today both female and male performers can be seen in Peking or Beijing Opera.

Peking or Beijing Opera's two main musical elements have their origins in Han Opera and thus Han Opera is known as the Mother of Peking Opera. Another well known part of this performance form is the Xipi which translates as 'Skin Puppet Show' and refers to the Chinese puppet sections which often appear in Peking or Beijing Opera which involved sung stories acted out by puppets. Much of the language and dialogue either sung or spoken in Peking or Beijing Opera is an old form of Mandarin Chinese which has its origins in Zhongyuan Mandarin. By the late 19th century, the Anhui troupes acrobatic elements had become a regular part of performances too as had the simple singing forms which became popular with everyday Chinese.

There are four skills which Peking or Beijing Opera performers must master and eventually perform effortlessly:
-       Song
-       Speech
-       Dance-acting (including dance and pantomime)
-       Combat (including acrobatics and fighting)

The form of singing, speech and movement is stylized and the grace and beauty of each is a much sort after quality. The movements in particular have symbolic elements and meanings.

There are hundreds of different styles of music in Peking or Beijing Opera which can be divided into two major forms:
-       Xipi (西皮)
-       Erhuang (二黄)

Characters and Roles
There are many roles and characters in Peking and Beijing Opera. Here are the main ones:
-       The Sheng () is the main male role in Peking opera and it has many subtypes including the laosheng, xiaosheng and wusheng roles. Some laosheng characters are Hongsheng, a red-faced older male, Guan Gong, the Chinese god of sworn brotherhood (a loyal character) and Zhao Kuang-yin, the first Song Dynasty emperor. Sometimes these characters sing in a low voice. Younger male main characters are known as xiaosheng and usually are typified by singing in a high, shrill voice. On-stage, xiaosheng characters are often involved with beautiful women. The wusheng are combat or martial arts characters who also do acrobatics and sing in a more natural voice.
-       The Dan () is a general name for any female characters in peking or Beijing Opera. The five subtypes of Dan are laodan (older women), wudan (martial arts and acrobatic women), daomadan (young female warriors), gingyi (sophisticated and elite women) and huadan (vivacious, sometimes forthright and unmarried women). A modern sixth type called huashan (who is a combines the sophistication of gingyi and the sensuality of huadan) has emerged in recent times. Sometimes these characters walk with a cai qiao, or "false foot" technique which imitates the walk of a woman with bound feet.
-       The Jing () is a painted face male role and is normally forceful and sings in a deeper voice and uses strong exaggerated actions. There are fifteen major painted face designs used and the colours and patterns derive from traditional Chinese color symbolism and divination on the lines of a person's face, which are seen by many Chinese to reveal the nature, life or personality of a individual. Jing characters often have more of a physical or acrobatic role in performances.
-       Chou () are male clown roles. Chou means ugly and often these characters appear as merchants, jailers or in a military role. These types of characters are the most acrobatic of the peking or Beijing Opera characters. Chou characters wear special face paint, called xiaohualian, which distinguishes them from Jing characters because it has a small patch of white around the nose. This character is often accompanied by drums or a small gong or a cymbal. The character sometimes has a clapper stick and speaks and sings in local dialect and often improvises songs.

Training for Characters
Training takes years for Peking or Beijing Opera performers. In the past performers were chosen as six or seven year olds. Training took place in formal Peking Opera schools where pupils started at 5am with morning exercise, acrobatic and combat skills. Acrobatic and dance skills were taught from a young age and singing, gesture and acting were taught at a later age.

Conventions of Peking or Beijing Opera
Originally, Peking or Beijing Opera was performed on square platforms exposed to the audience on three even sides. Eventually a stage with an embroided curtain called a shoujiu became standard and performances could be watched from the front or the back of the stage. Today some performances are watched from one side in a proscenium arch configuration but this is rarer. Peking or Beijing Opera stages are normally square and viewed from three sides. Direction and North, South, east and West are important to the staging of this opera. Most of the audience are always seated South of the stage, therefore, north is the most important direction in Peking opera. Although performers enter from the East and exit to the West, when they move onto the stage they will immediately move to "center north" upon entering the stage. A table and chairs are the normal set items although a city wall or a mountain can also appear on stage. Props and sound effects can be used to indicate other objects, the appearance of a whip indicates a horse and the appearance of an oar indicates a boat.

In front of the curtain, a table normally has all the musical instruments used where the orchestra or Changmian set up in full view of the audience. A performance normally begins with singing accompanied by dual flutes or Shuangshoudi. Sometimes then huqin or string or fiddle playing is then heard. The main musical accompaniment used in Peking is done by the drummers who must be able to accompany singers, actors and acrobatic fighting and battles. The main drummer or huqin player normally can play in many different styles.

Performers strive for beauty in every action. They try to synthesize the different skills of the voice and body. The shapes that the performer forms in the space and on the floor as important as the gestures and patterns created by hands and the voice. All actions and movement has a symbolic meaning. For example, a performer or performers walking in a large circle always symbolizes traveling a long distance. Peking or Beijing Opera is not naturalistic but based on the principle of Mo (which means mime or imitation), but the imitation in Peking or Beijing Opera is suggestive rather than directly imitative. Every action and gesture aims for roundness so sharp angles and straight lines are avoided. A character looking upon an object above them will sweep their eyes in a circular motion from low to high before landing on the object. This also gives three-dimensional movement to the characters and actors which derives from the original three sided and traverse audience configuration. Circular and S-Shaped gestures and movements are encouraged.

Since sets and props are kept simple for most Peking and Beijing Opera, costumes and the colour of costumes is important. Here are some common costume conventions:
-       Emperors and their families wear yellow robes
-       Court officials and high-ranking people wear purple (sometimes a dragon appears on these garments)
-       Middle to high-rank people or people of virtue wear red
-       Low ranking officials wear blue
-       Young characters and lovers wear white
-       Old wear white, brown, or olive
-       Other men wear black

Voice and Song
There are ways the voice is used or "four levels of song":
-       Songs with music
-       Verse recitation
-       Prose dialogue
-       Non-verbal or sometimes sound vocalizations

The six main types of song lyrics used are:
-       Emotive
-       Narrational
-       Condemnatory
-       Descriptive
-       Disputive,
-       Joint or "Shared space” dialogue or spectacle

Here is a video-clip from a Beijing Opera piece:

Chinese Beijing Opera Exercises and Activities
Students experiment with design and technical elements such as symbol, colour and character appropriate to the style of make-up used in Beijing Opera.
The aim of this lesson is to develop understandings of the role of colour in determining an audience’s perception of character. Introduce the Beijing Opera, then explain that the class is going to explore how colour is used in face painting.
Give students make-up designs of two Beijing Opera characters and ask them to colour in the faces. Ask students to write a brief analysis of each character based on their existing understanding of colour associations. Students can even do a performance using a Peking Opera story and cut out the masks they have created and act with them, Students can also do these designs as face makeup.
Here is a link to different Peking or Beijing Opera face and mask designs:
Stage Fighting is an interesting part of Peking and Beijing Opera. Students love to practice this. Normally the performers move around one another and do not actually touch or have the sticks actually touch. Students can practice moving around one another with bamboo sticks or long cardboard rolls without actually touching one another. Sometimes sticks are thrown and whole routines are based on this. Watch the following video and have students develop their own stick throwing or stick fighting sequences.

"Ancient Chinese General In Beijing Opera Costume" Royalty Free Photos, Stock Photos, Photography and Royalty Free Images at Imagine. Web. 29 Aug. 2011.

"Beijing Opera - Peking Opera." - Your Beijing Travel Guide. Web. 29 Aug. 2011.

"China ABC" China Radio International. Web. 29 Aug. 2011. http://thai.cri.cnchinaabc/chapter19/chapter190103.htm

A great website to read about Peking Opera and to download peking Opera from.

Dynasty Warriors 5. Omega Force. 5 Oct. 2011. Koei. Playstation 2. V 5.0. English         
Plot or synopses of famous Peking or Beijing Operas

"Red Full Face - Guan Yu." Paul and Bernice Noll Website. Web. 29 Aug. 2011.

Beijing Drama Units at:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014



Melodrama as a form began in France in the late 18th century. It is a dramatic form which uses exaggerated plot elements and characters (often stereotypes or archetypal in nature) in order to appeal to the emotions of the audience. The language, behaviour, stage effects or events can all be called melodramatic in themselves. Originally, in the 18th and 19th centuries, melodrama referred to the specific form of theatre where orchestral music or song were used to accompany the action to add to the emotional and dramatic effect. Nowdays, Melodrama also is a style of drama that has been applied on the movies and television, and radio formats. The term originated from the early 19th-century French word mélodrame, which is derived comes from the Ancient Greek words melos (music) and drān (to do or perform).

The key features of Melodrama as a form are: pathos, overwrought or heightened emotion, moral polarization (good vs. evil), non-classical narrative structure (especially the use of extreme coincidence and deux ex machina to further plot elements), and sensationalism (emphasis on action, violence, and thrills). Melodrama rejects naturalism as a form as such but sometimes naturalistic set were used in Victorian and Edwardian melodrama and this was combined and contrasted with the non-naturalistic acting presented.

Beginning in the 18th century, melodrama was a technique of combining spoken recitation with short pieces of accompanying music. In such works, music and spoken dialogue typically alternated, although the music was sometimes also used to accompany what we know of as pantomime. The first full melodrama was Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) and this was followed soon after by a set on duo and monodramas in the form evident in Georg work and his Ariadne auf Naxos (1775) and Medea (1778). Some bans on serious theatre in England meant that theatres presented dramas that were underscored with music and, borrowing the French term, called it melodrama. Eventually this style developed in Germany and England into the style we know of as Melodrama.

Operettas started to use melodrama techniques and sequences and Gilbert and Sullivan’s work often employs melodrama as does Loewe’s Brigadoon. During the 19th century, the form flourished in England, France and the United States of America. By the end of the 19th century, the term melodrama had nearly exclusively narrowed down to a specific genre of salon entertainment: more or less rhythmically spoken words (often poetry) – not sung, sometimes more or less enacted, at least with some simple narrative structure. Eventually Victorian Melodrama dominated as a form. Victorian Melodrama used six stock characters of the hero, the villain, the heroine, an aged parent, a sidekick and a servant of the aged parent engaged in a sensational plot featuring themes of love and murder. Often the good but not very clever hero is duped by a scheming villain, who has eyes on the ‘Damsel in Distress’. The plays have elements of Morality dramas since eventually good triumphs over evil. Some examples of Pre-Victorian Melodramas are Holcroft’s A Tale of Mystery (1802) and Dimond’s The Broken Sword (1816). Some Victorian Melodramas were Boucicault’s The Streets of London (1864) and Phillips Lost in London (1867). 

Silent films in the early 20th century kept the tradition alive (see The Perils of Pauline from 1914) and elements of Melodrama can be seen in modern films such as Batman Forever, Burke and Hare and Sweeney Todd.

Year 7 Melodrama Unit:
Year 8 Melodrama Unit (TES Australia)
Drama and Media Combined Melodrama Unit

Brooks, Peter (1995). The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama, and the Mode of Excess. Yale University Press. p. xv.
Costello, Robert B., ed. (1991). Random House Webster's College Dictionary. New York: Random House. p. 845.
Dirks T Melodrama Films website opinion
Singer, Ben (2001). Melodrama and Modernity: Early Sensational Cinema and Its Contexts. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 44–53.
Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Melodrama". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Branscombe, Peter. "Melodrama". In Sadie, Stanley; John Tyrrell, eds. (2001). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition. New York: Grove's Dictionaries.
Williams, Carolyn. "Melodrama", in The New Cambridge History of English Literature: The Victorian Period, ed. Kate Flint, Cambridge University Press (2012), pp. 193–219.
Michael Booth (1991) Theatre in the Victorian Age. Cambridge University Press.