Welcome to the Department of English at Rutgers University

Course No: 350:567
Index # - 18028
Distribution Requirement:  A4, A5
Tuesday - 4:30 p.m.
MU 207


Matthew Buckley

This seminar offers an introduction to the history and theory of melodrama. We’ll examine melodrama’s classical origins and Enlightenment emergence as a theatrical form, its Romantic formation and early development as a dramatic genre and narrative style, its Victorian appropriation as a literary mode and a social and political rhetoric, and its late-nineteenth-century emergence as what Peter Brooks described as a “central poetry” of modernity. We will explore, too, melodrama’s extended history of cultural transmission and globalization, from its epidemic rise in Western Europe and the Trans-Atlantic world to its pandemic suffusion, in the later 20th-century, of an international culture of narrative form. We will look at the diverse manners in which melodrama has been adapted to comparative national contexts and the way its history both reflects and informs the history of modern mass media of all kinds, from the penny press to the internet. We will, along the way, examine melodrama as it appears across the arts, from theatre, film, television, and new media to opera, popular music, painting and prints, novels and poetry. Finally, we will as well become acquainted, as we go, with the vexed history of melodrama criticism and theory, from early Romantic efforts to comprehend the form’s irrational appeal and Victorian attempts to occlude its generic presence and impact to recent efforts to understand melodrama’s relationship to affective dynamics and trauma and current attempts to make sense of its viral, trans-medial, trans-cultural movement through the modern world. We will, finally, try to take stock of the conceptual challenge that melodrama’s history poses to our understanding of the larger history of the arts in modernity, and to take stock, too, of the ways in which that history calls into question the methodological and disciplinary structures and practices of critical inquiry.

While this seminar is most obviously relevant to those interested in theatre and film, it should hold considerable value for students whose work is concerned in any fashion with modern narrative and culture. Primary texts will include a broad range of plays, films, and critical works from the 18th century to the present, including plays by Rousseau, Pixérécourt, Pocock, Jerrold, Buckstone, Boucicault, Ibsen, and Lewis, among others, films by Griffiths, Sirk, Fassbinder, Haynes, and others, and television programs from the 1950s to the present. Secondary reading will include a significant range of scholarship on melodrama from the 19th-century to the present, including work by Charles Nodier, Michael Booth, Peter Brooks, Martin Meisel, Carolyn Williams, Elaine Hadley, Amy Hughes, Elin Diamond, Joseph Roach, Douglas Jones, David Mayer, Ben Singer, Christine Gledhill, Sandy Flitterman-Lewis, Linda Williams, and Elizabeth Anker. One highlight of this course is that it will introduce our students to the remarkable concentration of scholars in our department and at Rutgers who work on this topic. Although the range of our reading will be considerable, its volume will not be excessive, and students will not be expected to have prior exposure to the works and contexts we will explore. Course requirements will include a class presentation, two short essays, and a final paper, all—within reasonable bounds—on topics of the student’s choice.

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