The dominant form of theatre in the earlier part of the 19th century was melodrama. This relied on exaggerated plotting and stock characters to increase the emotional engagement of the spectators, and was usually accompanied by orchestral music. The most popular plays, such as Thomas Holcroft’s A Tale of Mystery (1802) and The Miller and his Men (1813) by Isaac Pocock, ran along gothic lines similar to The Turn of the Screw. The reference once more generates unease about the governess’s role: if Bly is a theatre, is she then a spectator or the director?
The playbills used to advertise upcoming shows were typically extremely wordy and included a full list of parts and actors, as well as details of costume and scenery. An exposition of the theatre’s philosophy or a letter from a well-known actor to the audience was also sometimes featured.