Is The Octoroon a typical Victorian melodrama?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the genre of melodrama as, “a stage play, usually romantic and sensational in plot”, this description certainly applies to The Octoroon. It was an extremely popular form of stage drama and what I will discover is whether its themes, content and structure are typical of the Victorian period melodrama. From the first time it was presented at the start of the nineteenth century, melodrama attracted big audiences. It started out very popular with the lower classes in society but as the century progressed melodrama became appreciated by large sections of society(Leaver,444). It usually contained themes of love, murder and honour. Audiences that went to see melodrama’s were looking for cheap entertainment that was accessable for all and didn’t require a knowledge of other more sophisticated modes of drama. As the genre progressed, events on stage became more and more sensational, none more so than the burning steamboat scene in The Octoroon(Faulkner,35). Melodrama contains a few characters that are common to the majority of plays, the hero, the heroine, an old woman, an old man, a comic woman and a comic man. These characters are reproduced constantly(Booth,26). Evidence of these stereotypical characters in The Octoroon is blindingly obvious. A common component of melodrama was the upkeep of strict moral justice, and social and ideological justice aswell. This is evident in the American ending of The Octoroon, when Zoe takes poison to commit suicide, thinking that because of the society she lives in, she cannot be with her beloved George. Maybe Boucicault felt that the American audience’s sense of moral justice could not allow Zoe and George to be together. Dion Boucicault was one of the most successful and prolific dramatists of the nineteenth century. He produced a huge number of plays of which the exact number is between 135 and 400 titles (Kosok,82). He is a...
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