The appearance of melodramatic language and gesture in nineteenth-century lyric poetry was underwritten by two theories of ecstasis, the sense of losing oneself or going beyond the limits of comprehension. The first kind of ecstasis belonged to the sublime reaction, as Kant and Burke had imagined it. The second sort belonged to the picture of the disordered mind in the medical literature. A rhetoric of shock and loss in the melodramatic lyric bears the remains of the inchoate language and wild gestures in ancient lamentation but also refers to more recent performances of overpowering emotion on stage. Conventional reactions to sublime landscapes in painting, for example, employ expressions and gestures inventoried both in Longinus's treatise on the sublime and in acting manuals for tragedians. Percy Bysshe Shelley's "A Lament" (1821) and Richard Harris Barham's "Epigram" (1847) are performances of the sublime confrontation with the idea of death. Both poems were attempts to record ecstasis and to transcribe melodramatic acting. "Epigram," moreover, alludes to another interpretation of ecstasis in the lately popular Romantic ballet. This revolutionary technique created an illusion of bodilessness-a vision of the body losing itself and fading into nothing. The reformulations of the sublime in philosophy and medicine thus enabled a set of signifying practices that appear in transcriptions of lamentation and in dance. Both are efforts to perform the sublime moment.
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