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13 - Melodrama

from PART II - THEATRE

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 October 2015

Heidi J. Holder
Affiliation:
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Brad Kent
Affiliation:
Université Laval, Québec
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Summary

In March 1896, Bernard Shaw attended in his capacity as theatre reviewer a performance of a rather undistinguished nautical melodrama: True Blue, by Leonard Outram and Stewart Gordon. He conjured for his readers a notable scene in which the female villain, a lady matador, plots to eliminate her rival, who, as a stowaway, has chosen to hide herself in a ship's boiler:

Becoming acquainted, heaven knows how, with the hiding place of the heroine, she takes the stage alone, and draws a thrilling picture of her rival's impending doom. She describes her in the clammy darkness of the boiler, listening to the wild beats of her own heart. Then the sensation of wet feet, the water rising to her ankles, her knees, her waist, her neck and only by standing on tip toe, with frantic upturned face, can she breathe. One mercy alone seems vouchsafed to her: the water has lost its deadly chill. Nay, it is getting distinctly warm, even hot – hotter – scalding! Immortal powers, it is BOILING; and what was a moment ago a beautiful English girl in the exquisite budding of her beautiful womanhood, is now but a boilerful of soup, and in a moment will be but a condenser full of low-pressure steam. I must congratulate [the actress] on the courage with which she hurled this terrible word-picture at a house half white with its purgation by pity and terror, and half red with voiceless, apoplectic laughter. (OTN II: 81)

Shaw had long experience with such ‘thrilling pictures’ as this. From youthful trips to the Theatre Royal, Dublin, at which he saw the works of mid-century dramatists including Dion Boucicault, Charles Reade, and Tom Taylor, to his work as a theatre critic for the Saturday Review in the 1890s, Shaw had many opportunities to ponder melodramatic effects. So steeped was he in Victorian popular theatre that, as Martin Meisel has argued, his ‘drama of ideas was a legitimate child of that theater’.

His experience from the start was marked by the kind of doubleness noted earlier, a contrast or interplay between being helplessly gripped by theatrical effect and remaining aware of its artificiality, even absurdity.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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References

Bentley, Eric. ‘The Theory and Practice of Shavian Drama’, in Elsie B. Adams, ed., Critical Essays on George Bernard Shaw. New York: G. K. Hall, 1991. 44–59.Google Scholar
Berst, Charles A. ‘New Theatres for Old’, in Christopher Innes, ed., The Cambridge Companion to George Bernard Shaw. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 55–75.Google Scholar
Dukore, Bernard F.Shaw's Theater. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 2000.Google Scholar
Kent, Brad. ‘Censorship and Immorality: Bernard Shaw's The Devil's Disciple’, Modern Drama 54:4 (2011): 511–33.Google Scholar
Meisel, Martin. ‘“Dear Harp of My Country”; or, Shaw and Boucicault’, SHAW 30 (2010): 43–62.Google Scholar
Mercier, Vivian. ‘New Wine, Old Bottles; Shaw and the Dublin Theatre Tradition’, Irish Writers and the Theatre, ed. Sekine, Masaru. Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble, 1986. 103–13.Google Scholar
Sterner, Mark H.Shaw's Devil's Disciple: The Subversion of Melodrama/The Melodrama of Subversion’, Modern Drama 42:3 (Fall 1999): 338–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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  • Melodrama
  • Edited by Brad Kent, Université Laval, Québec
  • Book: George Bernard Shaw in Context
  • Online publication: 05 October 2015
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107239081.015
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  • Melodrama
  • Edited by Brad Kent, Université Laval, Québec
  • Book: George Bernard Shaw in Context
  • Online publication: 05 October 2015
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107239081.015
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Melodrama
  • Edited by Brad Kent, Université Laval, Québec
  • Book: George Bernard Shaw in Context
  • Online publication: 05 October 2015
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107239081.015
Available formats
×