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Willing Suspension Of Disbelief, The

  In theatre, ‘Willing Suspension of Disbelief’ is a crucial part of the implied contract between theatre audiences and theatrical practitioners. Although the term itself was invented by Coleridge, the phenomenon is far older, since audiences must always agree to a whole series of potentially counter-factual propositions in order to make sense of theatrical events. An audience does not have the right, for example, to intervene to convert the action of Othello into comedy by informing Desdemona of what is going on; if you refuse to believe in fairies, at least for the duration of the performance, your enjoyment of A Midsummer Night\'s Dream is likely to be severely curtailed. This issue has been little discussed (perhaps because it strikes many critics as blindingly obvious); but it lies at the heart of what theatre is, and does. To take one point at random, for example: what sort of suspension of disbelief, willing or otherwise, happens to the ‘spectators’ of religious drama (such as those of Far Eastern dance-plays)? Is this the same suspension of disbelief as felt by the audience of (say) a Feydeau farce, a Beckett play or a television soap? TRG KMcL SS

See also drama; naturalism; unities, the.Further reading E. Aston and , G. Savona, Theatre as a Sign-System; , K. Elam, Semiotics of Theatre and Drama.



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