Melodrama, Realism & Naturalism

Melodrama (Romanticism)

Suspenseful plots lead to a moral lesson

A virtuous protagonist, an evil villain, a heroic rescue

Much use of scenic spectacle, often using stock scenery assembled for each production

Scenes of local color, often with music, costumes, and accents

Usually underscored with music

Unequivocal moral tone

Often about distant lands or exotic subjects

Good threatened by evil, good wins


Plots are carefully crafted toward a specific theme, usually with social overtones

Characters developed “scientifically”—behavior is shaped by environment/ cause and effect

Truth is verifiable through the experience of the senses

Settings are three dimensional and are acted in, rather than in front of; are specific to story.

Stories are centered around contemporary subjects and characters

Often depicts poverty, disease, corruption, prostitution

Moral values relative rather than absolute; characters poses both “good” and “bad” characteristics


Extreme version of realism

Chief proponent Emile Zola believed naturalism was medicine, “Discover the disease and treat it”.

Tries to avoid obvious dramatic structure, “slice of life” drama

Extremely realistic settings—perhaps even actual buildings