Melodrama, realism and empire on the British stage
in Acts of supremacy
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The writers of nineteenth-century spectacular melodrama made frequent use of colonial settings, particularly India and Africa. The hero in domestic melodrama is the locus for a dramatic examination of heroism and its relation to a community; his persecution focuses attention on oppositions existing within British society. But in the melodramas with colonial settings the absurd perversion of British justice vanishes. The origins of colonial melodrama in the traditions of equestrian, military and aquatic melodrama thus ensured a persistent emphasis on physical realism and historical accuracy. The exciting illogic of domestic melodrama is thus replaced by a 'realistic' lesson in the inevitable and virtuous effects of Empire. The dramatic balance provided by realistic spectacle and fantastic action would be lost in the latter half of the century, when the colonial melodrama, increasingly a vehicle for 'facts', was used to educate an English public in the business of Empire.

Acts of supremacy

The British Empire and the stage, 1790–1930

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