The dominant dramatic genre on the American stage throughout the entire 19th century, melodrama lost its edge only in the 20th century when the influence of Henrik Ibsen and a growing preference for plays of psychological realism relegated the cheap appeals of melodrama first to the ten, twent', thirt' theatres and then to the silent motion pictures. Melodrama had taken hold in Europe by 1800 with the widespread translation and staging of German-language plays by August Kotzebue and French plays by Guilbert de Pixérécourt, both of whom deployed gripping plots leavened by sentimentality and humor. Adaptations of their work by William Dunlap and Mordecai Noah established the fairy-tale melodrama on the early 19th-century American stage, followed by romantic historical melodramas like those written for Edwin Forrest. Historical melodramas that continued to be revived throughout the 19th century include ingomar, the Barbarian and The Two Orphans.
   By mid-century, Thomas S. Hamblin, manager of New York City's Bowery Theatre, had demonstrated the viability of maintaining a stock company to perform blood-and-guts melodrama for working-class audiences. After the Civil War and the enduring example of Uncle Tom's Cabin, melodrama was often co-opted by social reformers, with temperance melodramas as a prominent subcategory. A growing demand for scenic spectacle spawned what Bruce Mc-Conachie has termed "apocalyptic melodramas," featuring conflagrations, shipwrecks, natural disasters, street riots, and battlefield action. Among the most successful authors of plays with sensational effects were Augustin Daly, Dion Boucicault, David Belasco, and later, Owen Davis.
   While the spectacular effects of sensation dramas like Mazeppa, Ben-Hur, Blue Jeans, and The Heart of Maryland continued to draw popular audiences throughout the modernist era, the genre also took a turn toward depicting the familiar reality of its patronage after 1870. Those who kept their stories more grounded in everyday experience included Bronson Howard, Clyde Fitch, Steele MacKaye, and William Gillette with plays like Shenandoah, The City, Hazel Kirke, and Secret Service respectively. While certain aspects of melodrama—clear distinctions between good and evil, suspenseful situations, tight and logically structured action—will always have a place in some form of the drama, the genre itself gradually fell out of fashion as the motion picture siphoned off its strongest customer base. By the early 20th century, the grand manner of acting that was so effective in scenes of pathos or terror appeared overwrought and laughable.

The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. .

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  • Melodrama — Mel o*dra ma, n. [F. m[ e]lodrame, fr. Gr. me los song + dra^ma drama.] Formerly, a kind of drama having a musical accompaniment to intensify the effect of certain scenes. Now, a drama abounding in romantic sentiment and agonizing situations,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • melodrama — (n.) 1784 (1782 as melo drame), a stage play in which songs were interspersed and music accompanied the action, from Fr. mélodrame (18c.), from Gk. melos song (see MELODY (Cf. melody)) + Fr. drame drama (see DRAMA (Cf. drama)). Meaning a romantic …   Etymology dictionary

  • melodrama — melodramà dkt. Išori̇̀niais póžymiais melodramà artimà tragèdijai …   Bendrinės lietuvių kalbos žodyno antraštynas

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