Home > Catalogue > English Literature > 6 | 2019 > Tableaux and Melodramatic Realism

Tableaux and Melodramatic Realism

Carolyn Williams    Rutgers University, USA    



If in many ways its aims are comparable to those of novelistic realism (a focus on ordinary characters and contemporary social issues), melodrama exhibits a form of realism all its own. This essay focuses on several elements of that form, especially on the workings of the tableau. At the moment of tableau, acting bodies suddenly freeze to make a silent and still stage picture whose significance can be interpreted. Though the critical history of the tableau is tightly related to genre painting, its formal operations within melodrama are more complex than the aim to offer verisimilitude in the depiction of ordinary life. Tableaux establish the melodramatic narrative form characterised by intermittent pictorialization. They interrupt the dramatic action, summing up the plot so far and adumbrating action to come; they form ‘points’ on which the suspense of dramatic unfolding might hang; and these sudden moments of silence and stasis carry affective and intellectual points as well. Using exemplary readings of melodramas across the English 19th century, this essay demonstrates the formal potentialities of the tableau, including the metatheatrical self-consciousness of its role in constructing melodramatic realism.

March 9, 2020
Dec. 15, 2019
Sept. 10, 2019

Keywords: Douglas JerroldLeopold LewisMetatheatricalityTableauDion BoucicaultRealismGenre paintingMelodramaSerial discontinuity

Copyright: © 2019 Carolyn Williams. This is an open-access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction is permitted, provided that the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. The license allows for commercial use. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.