Samuel Taylor Coleridge Questions and Answers

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Discuss Coleridge's poetry with reference to his own phrase "The willing suspension of disbelief."

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It would be easy to dismiss the poetry of Coleridge as the product of a man whose mind was tortured by opium-inspired visions and nightmares. Certainly his poetry includes much focus on the supernatural and other-worldly. It is interesting therefore that he himself in his criticism came up with the phrase that has been applied to so many Shakespeare plays and other forms of literature, which is the "willing suspension of disbelief," or the way in which the audience enters into a state where they are happy to suspend their disbelief and to trust the playwright or author and believe that what they see and read is actually the truth and clearly happened. In poems such as "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" there is obviously a massive need for this because otherwise the events narrated by the Mariner could easily be dismissed as the ravings of a madman and nothing more. Note how the deaths of his crew are described by the Mariner after the dice game:

Four times fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
They dropped down one by one. 
The clear focus on the supernatural in this quote and in the poem as a whole necessitates the willing suspension of disbelief, and Coleridge depends on this in order for his readers to take his message about the sacredness of nature seriously. In fact, arguably, the structure of the poem, with the events being reported to a narrator in a framing device adds credibility to the tale, as the reaction of the wedding guest shows. Suspension of disbelief is therefore critical in all of his works.
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