Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Acronyms, Wikipedia.


[Gr.,=song-drama], originally a spoken text with musical background, as in Greek drama. The form was popular in the 18th cent., when its composers included Georg Benda, J. J. Rousseau, and W. A. Mozart, among others. Modern examples of the true music melodrama are found in Richard Strauss's setting of Tennyson's Enoch Arden, and in Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire. J. J. Rousseau's melodrama Pygmalion (1762; first performed 1770) helped create a vogue for stage plays in which the action was generally romantic, full of violent action, and often characterized by the final triumph of virtue. The common use of the term melodrama refers to sentimental stage plays of this sort. The leading authors of melodramas in the early 19th cent. were Guilbert de Pixérécourt of France and the German August von Kotzebue. The term was used extensively in England in the 19th cent. as a device to circumvent the law that limited legitimate plays to certain theaters. One of the most-popular of theatrical genres in 19th. cent England and America, its "tear-jerking" style easily made the transition to film, radio and television, where they are represented by the maudlin excesses and unbelievable coincidences of contemporary soap operas. The term is now applied to all scripts with overdrawn characterizations, smashing climaxes, and appeal to sentiment. Famous examples of stage melodramas include East Lynne by Mrs. Henry Wood and Ten Nights in a Barroom by W. W. Pratt.


See D. Gerould, ed., Melodrama (1980).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) A dramaturgical genre; a play characterized by a tense plot, exaggerated emotionalism, a sharp contrast between good and evil, and a moralizing, didactic tendency. Melodrama originated in the late 1790’s in France and reached its peak in the 1830’s and 1840’s. The best melodramas, including works by J.-M. Monvel, E. Souvestre, and F. Pyat, protested against social injustice and religious fanaticism and exposed the poverty and disenfranchisement of the people. Gradually, however, melodrama lost its democratic, humanistic orientation and became a form of superficial entertainment pervaded by cloying sentimentality.

In Russia melodramas were first written in the late 1820’s by N. V. Kukol’nik and N. A. Polevoi. V. G. Belinskii and N. V. Gogol sharply criticized the genre for being divorced from the vital interests of Russian society and for presenting unrealistic characters and situations.

In the Soviet theater and dramaturgy interest was first shown in melodramas in the years immediately after the Great October Socialist Revolution. Gorky and A. V. Lunacharskii defended the melodrama, equating it, essentially, with romantic social drama. Certain elements of melodrama are characteristic of the works of several Soviet playwrights, including A. N. Arbuzov and A. D. Salynskii.

(2) A musical dramatic work in which the monologues and dialogues of the dramatis personae are combined with music, either as an interlude or as accompaniment. One of the early examples of this form was J. J. Rousseau’s lyric, one-act play Pygmalion (1762). A number of melodramas were written by the 18th-century Czech composer J. Benda. The Russian composer E. I. Fomin created the melodrama Orpheus (1792). (See .)


Istoriia zapadnoevropeiskogo teatra, vol. 3. Moscow, 1963.
Glumov, A. N. “Neskol’ko znachenii termina ’melodrama.’“In his book Muzyka v russkom dramaticheskom teatre. Moscow, 1955.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a play, film, etc., characterized by extravagant action and emotion
2. (formerly) a romantic drama characterized by sensational incident, music, and song
3. a poem or part of a play or opera spoken to a musical accompaniment
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Those moments in opera where speech replaces singing are the passages of melodrama most likely to be familiar to the reader (see category 3 below).
After working with New Zealand musician and producer Joel Little on Pure Heroine , she wrote and recorded nearly all of Melodrama with Jack Antonoff of Fun.
Esta historia del teatro culto y popular en el siglo XIX senala el camino mas obvio hacia la forma cinematica del melodrama. No obstante, varios estudiosos han visto elementos ancestrales del melodrama en otras fuentes cuyos vestigios nos recuerdan algunas cuestiones culturales centrales del melodrama hoy dia.
In a piece about his melodrama The Wood Daemon; or, the Clock Has Struck (Drury Lane, 1 April 1807), the General Evening Post accused him of having "given such a loose to his imagination, and introduced so many spectres of various descriptions, that a Jury of Ghosts should be impannelled to decide upon the merits of its performance." (11)
The interplay between public and private that defines much discourse surrounding melodrama is evident at the heart of Peter Brooks' oft-referenced work, in his argument regarding the origins of melodrama in the public, political realm.
Joan Copjec (1999) contends that "crying was an invention of the late eighteenth century" when a new literary form, the melodrama, emerged, but the flood of tears then was not so much a personal expression as a political tool, "not immediately the expression of a sentiment, of a bond of sympathy between citizens, but rather evidence of the fact that something had become unassimilable in our society" (252).
Considering the melodrama's efficacy in moving audiences into becoming involved in social reform movements, it is no surprise that Miles Coverdale, narrator and aspiring reformer of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance (1851), appropriates melodramatic language in describing the events of a novel about social reform.
The interest of the melodrama is to simply make up a story where opposites are clearly identified: the white is pure and beautiful and the indigeneous character is evil and ugly.
In this article, I consider how melodrama functions as a mode outside of Hollywood by looking at the way the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses melodrama in their official film productions.