In opera, a monodrama was originally a melodrama with one role such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Pygmalion, which was written in 1762 and first staged in Lyon in 1770, and Georg Benda's work of the same name (1779).
The term is also applied to modern works with a single soloist, such as Arnold Schoenberg's Die glückliche Hand (1924), which besides the protagonist has two additional silent roles as well as a choral prologue and epilogue. Erwartung (1909) and La voix humaine (1959) closely follow the traditional definition, while in Eight Songs for a Mad King (1969) by Peter Maxwell Davies, the instrumentalists are brought to the stage to participate in the action. A twenty-first century example is Émilie by Kaija Saariaho.
In spoken drama
Samuel Beckett (Krapp's Last Tape, 1958) and Anton Chekhov (On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco, 1886, 1902), among others, have written monodramas. Tennyson's poem "Maud" is also played as a monodrama. Patrick Süskind has one person speak to the audience in Der Kontrabaß (1981). A modern example is A Night in November (1994) by Irish playwright Marie Jones.
Occasionally, a solo scene within a play might be described as a monodrama. Most pieces for pantomimes are designed as monodramas.
As developed by Russian symbolist Nikolai Evreinov (1879–1953) and encapsulated in his book The Theatre in Life (1927), it is a dramatic representation of what passes in an individual mind. Everything one witnesses on stage is portrayed from the mental state of the given protagonist.