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French artists coined the term melodrama to refer to plays with exaggerated plots and actors with the purpose of touching the emotions of the audience.
The term melodrama has two morphemes that have different etymologies; melos, a French word that means music and drain, a Greek word that means to perform or to do. Artists later adopted the word drain into French and Latin as drama and drama respectively. So, French artists only combined the words melons and drama to form the word melodrama.
The most popular American melodrama is considered to be Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Even though her book was a bestseller in the 19th century, the majority of Americans preferred watching the dramatized version in theatres to reading the book from their homes.
Historical developments that influenced realism
The historical developments that had the greatest influence on realism were the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution in the 1700s. These hard times led to the withdrawal of playwrights and directors from Romanticism. They then focused their attention on the real conditions of human beings in the world. The independent spirits that resulted from the French Revolution led to liberalism in drama.
Furthermore, the Industrial Revolution changed the focus of theatre from rich to poor citizens. Directors made plays that reflected the plight of workers employed in the industries and other problems that came with industrialization. They, therefore, painted a pessimistic world, unlike their Romantic predecessors who always portrayed the world as the best place for everybody.
Emergence of naturalism
Another movement, Naturalism, developed from Realism in the later parts of the 19th century. This movement based its principles on the scientific works of Charles Darwin, who argued that chance, heredity, and the environment are the things that control the fate of human beings.
These Darwinian ideologies made playwrights use characters that were controlled by external forces. Realism and Naturalism were similar in the sense that they were both committed to depicting the world in its real sense. Naturalism, however, differed from Realism because it had a clearly defined attitude towards life and playwrights imposed this view of life on their works.
Notable 19-century Theatrical Naturalists
Emile Zola was the real leader of the literary School of Naturalism. He argued that plays should be true and simple and that theatre should educate people on how to be moral and just.
August Strindberg was the founder of modern Swedish literature and theatre. He combined psychology and naturalism and made drama out of them. It was, however, hard to stage his plays because the Royal Theatre did not accept his plays.
André Antoine was an actor, theater manager, film director, critic, and naturalist playwright. He advocated for Emile Zola’s ideologies in France and staged performances based on Zola’s plays.
Meaning of the term Realistic
The term realistic in its literal usage means something that is not imaginary; one that can be seen. In literary works, the term realism refers to plays that directly expose particular evils, especially among leaders, without using a figurative language.
The meaning of this word in the 19th-century drama was different. Then, it referred to the movement in art that represented the world as it was; with minimal imaginations and emotions. Modern drama should embrace the meaning of realism as purposed by the 19th-century drama and eliminate unrealistic elements like science fiction from modern drama.
A Doll’s House
I would adopt most characters as they are, but empower Norah to fight for her rightful place without leaving her house. She would be equally learned to challenge Krogstad with facts instead of running away from home the way Ibsen’s Norah does. I would create Norah who would go to court to ask for a divorce because women of the 21st century are educated and usually challenge their husbands as equals.