In what ways did melodrama as a cultural form speak to the concerns of American theatregoers during the nineteenth century? Discuss Augustin Daly's sensational melodrama "Under The Gaslight" and the ways in which it negotiates the issues of class and ethnicity in nineteenth century New York.
This essay will look at melodrama in the nineteenth century. It will establish whether the issues of class and ethnicity were included in the melodramas performed in New York during this period. The essay will consider the different types of melodramas watched by different classes of society. In order to do this melodrama needs to be explained. Melodrama comes from the practice of "music drama". It is a play which consists of overdramatic and extravagant behaviour and emotions. Melodramas are usually no longer than five acts long and followed an episodic form; villain catches heroine, heroine gets away, good triumphs at end. They also rely heavily on sensational incidents which allow special effects to take place on stage.
This means that these incidents tend to become the heart of the plays, rather than character development. Melodramatic plays began in France with Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Pygmalion which was first performed in 1770. Dion Boucicault was a nineteenth century playwright who wrote, and adapted, some of the most popular melodramas of the time; The Octoroon in 1959 and The Colleen Bawn in 1860. The Northeast of America was where the theatre was most popular, especially in expanding cities like Boston, Philadelphia and New York. The west did have an enjoyment for theatre but imported nearly all it from the northeast. The south was slower at obtaining the melodrama of the northeast, and as the audience had a tendency to be upper-class they did not show much moral reform or apocalyptic melodramas.
In America the type of...