This essay explores the social origins and aesthetic development of melodrama in order to suggest a revised understanding of the genre's character, its place in the history of modern drama, and its role in the development of modern culture and consciousness. Tracing melodrama's close emergence out of the traumatic violence of the French revolutionary era and finding in its early development the construction of a disruptive serial aesthetic of affective sensation and spectacular shock, "Refugee Theatre" argues for an understanding of melodrama as an addictive new form of vivid psychological drama, one that rehearsed, reinforced, and catalyzed the continual trauma and psychological dislocation of modern life. Pursuing the implications of such a revised view in light of the genre's subsequent transformations, the essay suggests that we must recognize in melodrama a genre that modern culture did not reject or move beyond so much as internalize and repress—and that such recognition implies in turn a very different, and much less redemptive, understanding of melodrama's role in modernity and in the history of modern drama.


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pp. 175-190
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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