Legislating Morality

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:
Legislating Morality

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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This chapter discusses the morality that is attached to masking, particularly honest masking. In Venice, honest masking marked a move from masks as being seen as a way to weigh one’s words, control one’s gestures, and to cover one’s face. In earlier times, masks were associated with the theatre and carnival as well as crime and concealment. However, the use of masks changed. Three-quarters of a century after the time when masks were used as tools of deceit and concealment, Venetian masks assumed connotations of modesty and reserve. The chapter discusses decrees which required civic and honest women to don masks, particularly when visiting theaters. This donning of masks became a symbol of the unprecedented demographic and social strains in Venice. It also represented the strict social structure and hierarchy of Venice. In the decrees pertaining to wearing masks, the main concern was to preserve the patrician character of Venice. The central position of the theaters in these decrees was a result of the fact that theaters served as venues where boundaries between classes were diminished. Theaters were places where locals and foreigners mingled in close proximity. Commingling to these officials had become a dangerous, promiscuous, undifferentiated mass. Through the decrees Venetians hoped to recover and preserve noble distinction.

Keywords: morality; masking; honest masking; modesty; reserve; commingling; preserve noble distinction

Chapter.  2892 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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