Anything Goes?

James H. Johnson

in Venice Incognito

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780520267718
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520948624 | DOI:
Anything Goes?

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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This chapter discusses prevailing sentiments and ideas about the Venetian carnival and the masks. For some, the Venetian carnival was“the other side of life, the counterpart of social segregation and political repression”. This interpretation of the carnival was widespread. The mask’s anonymity was a ticket to liberation. It conferred on its wearers a power to be anyone they wished, a cover to speak the truth, flaunt the convention, and throw off hierarchy. In a society where social structure was immutable, freedoms were limited, and punishment was harsh for anyone who questioned the system, the masks acted as salutary unsettler, equalizing, challenging, and permitting the forbidden. The carnival was a joyous celebration which erased differences, exposed ideologies, and cleared the way for human connections stripped of hierarchy. Masks revealed a universal impulse for equality. However, the carnival was a willed distraction from dire economic and political crises. The carnival provided a glimpse to the serious issues on social structure and selfhood; on politics and dissent; on destruction and renewal; on hierarchy, democracy, and equality; and on the collapse of the thousand-year Republic.

Keywords: Venetian carnival; anonymity; liberation; equality; carnival; social structure; selfhood

Chapter.  1258 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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