A Writer's Journey

May 19, 2014

Intro to Melodrama

Filed under: journey,writing — mackenziew @ 12:00 am

Last week I talked about my love for a melodramatic play called “Under the Gaslight.” Now it’s time to discuss melodrama! I know, I know, I’ve done this in reverse. But I’m sure you’ll stick with me!


Melodrama’s roots lie in many places, including the theater laws of 17th and 18th century England. Theaters had to be sanctioned by the government. So there were two main theaters in London: the Haymarket and Covent Gardens. To get around the laws, theater owners played fast and loose with semantics. And borrowed some French traditions. They added music in between acts of plays they produced to get around the laws. And thus the name melodrama was born. Over time, theater owners had other things beside music—magic tricks, dog tricks, etc. In many ways, it became similar to the American tradition of vaudeville.

Of course, melodrama evolved into its own style. Too bad this isn’t a video blog, because there’s a routine I think every drama teacher is required to do when teaching melodrama. Hmm, to YouTube! Aha, found it!

Anyway, there we go. Let’s talk about how melodrama still shapes how we view media.

The Leading Man: The romantic hero. He is usually handsome and well off.

The Leading Lady: Also the Damsel in Distress. Usually dressed in white and the first to fall into peril. Like the hero, she is usually beautiful and well off.

The Sidekick: Either male or female. Generally the help—the leading man’s valet or the leading lady’s maid. The sidekick is less attractive than the leading man or lady. Usually conveyed by a physical deformity.

The Villain: Pretty self-explanatory. A moustache is usually a dead giveaway but other clues help as well. 

I think in some ways you can see how melodrama shapes our view of media. Let’s look at Frozen, shall we? Specifically all the guesses there were based on the poster.

Leading Man: Hans

The Leading Lady: Anna

The Sidekick: Kristoff/Olaf

The Villain: Elsa

Sven is the outlier, at least in melodramatic eyes. But by Disney standards, he’s the animal companion.

But the movie blew up these preconceived notions. Hans was the villain, Kristoff the leading man. Both Anna and Elsa were the leading ladies.

One has to understand melodrama, I believe, to understand modern storytelling. To understand the tropes we use helps improve our stories and to understand how we are twisting the trope, if we so choose.

I’m sorry this is so short. But I decided to do a big topic…right before I go away on vacation. In fact, as you read this, I’m off having relaxing fun.

There probably won’t be an entry next week. And we’ll play the week after by ear.


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