A few quotations of a review to a melodramatic play I read recently.. Enjoy
Black –Ey’d Susan by Douglas Jerrold is perfectly atypical model of the nineteenth-century melodrama. The stock character, inorganic plot, elaborated language, extensive use of music, and the happy ending of the play: these are the things which distinguish melodrama from other kinds of drama. The purpose of the previously-mentioned elements is just to raise the sensation of to audience to the farthest extreme.
Starting with the melodramatic characters, there is “no attempt to individualize the characters, and consequently we think of melodramatic characters…in terms of types”(Nicoll.86). In other words, characters presented in melodrama are all flat; either too good or too wicked. Besides, there are common types of characters in every melodramatic play, for instance the pretty-innocent heroine and the brave hero attacked by other villains around them. Regarding this play, Gnatbrain sums up the main types of characters presented on the stage as “one stony-hearted landlord–one innocent young woman… one man tolerably honest”(11). Susan, the heroine, is presented as “a miserable creature,” “caged nightingale,” “orphan child,” “unprotected poor,” and “one who has nothing left in her misery but sweet consciousness of virtue”(10). Although of all that misfortunate situation, she is still faithful for her far-seas husband. William is seen throughout the play as “the best seaman and man,” “a brave fellow “and it is said once that “all William’s life has been goodness” (38).
As to the structure of the play, the melodrama “never seeks to persuade an audience that the actors and actions are related to life outside the theatre’s walls,”(Nicoll-86) but to supply waves of emotions and tension to the thirsty spectators. In the present play, the heroine is placed in a very hopeless situation; she stands alone without a husband to defend, money to support, or a shelter to protect. Jerrold manages to pushes the misery of the heroine to the extreme by surrounding her with vicious people, for instance, the greedy uncle, spoiled Captain Crosstree, and the deceiver Mr. Hatchet.
All the previous-mentioned elements gather to craete a special kind of drama which is known as a melodrama. Frank Rahill sums up these elements in his book, The World of Melodrama as: “A suffering heroine or hero, a persecuting villain, and a benevolent comic… concluding its fable happily with the virtue rewarded after many trails and vice punished”(5). He also mentions its distinguished characteristics which are elaborate language, exaggoration, dialogues and music. In short, through actions, actors, and the lively atmosphere melodrama is performed not to instruct audience, but to be felt, and to provide emotional response in every spectator’s heart.