Murder and Melodrama: The Red Barn Story on Stage

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2008-05-05

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True-crime subjects were compelling material for authors of British nineteenth century melodramas. The "crime melodrama" category developed quickly in the 1820s, redeploying the hallmark conventions of the genre to suit its needs. The story of Maria Marten and William Corder, also known as the Murder in the Red Barn, was one of the most enduring subjects. This paper follows the changing Red Barn story through three nineteenth century adaptations. The oldest extant play dates from the same year as the murder trial and translated the story from press accounts to a stage in London's East End in 1828. The next play demonstrates the ways in which the story was altered again to suit a theatre in Wales. The last, a production script for a touring company, is the least factual but the most sophisticated. These adaptations provide a window into the regional, cultural, and professional expectations for crime melodrama.

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