Floating City

Anling Deng

Carnival is one of the most representative characteristics of Venice. And what is special about the Carnival is that everyone has to wear a mask and dress up. According to Burke’s reading, common people could even dress up as the doge or act like an aristocrat during Carnival. However, could masking really help hide the personality and let people act like completely different persons? After the IPLACE class, I will argue, masking is more like a fun activity than a practical tool that let people pretend to be someone else. 

Nikki's pics

A Pantalone mask.

Image courtesy of store.girasolegiftsandimports.com

I had two masks. The first one was a fancy one decorated with red and white checkers. It has a long nose that looks like a beak. According to the reading and the class PowerPoint, it should be a Pantalone. A Pantalone is a person who is intelligent and funny and plays as a joker who could make everyone laugh easily. It is also one of the most important characters found in commedia dell’arte which was an Italian theatre characterized by masked types and improvised performances. When I first put the mask on, I felt physically uncomfortable because the mask has slanted eyes that could not fit my eye shape. However, I also felt fresh because examining the environment through the mask was a new experience. This curiosity lasted until the teacher asked the class to act like the mask character. I changed my walking style according to my interpretation of the mask and made some poses that should fit the character. Starring at the mirror, even though knowing I am pretending to be someone else, I felt extremely uncomfortable as if I am betraying my identity. I started to ask myself: Am I enjoying being someone else or will I rather just be myself? And what about the Venetian people? If they felt uncomfortable like I did, why did they still put masks on during the carnival? 

Nikki's pics

The man dressed up in green clothes had the similar mask to mine.

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I did not answer the question immediately but tried the second mask first. This time it was an even fancier mask. It is shining and decorated with beautiful black feathers. So it was supposed to be an aristocrat mask. And I started to be like an aristocrat: first held my head high, then put my hands in the back. For the first couple of minutes, I thought it was fun but later I returned to my normal walking style unintentionally. Just then I realized my body prefer to be me rather than an aristocrat. And I thought of the question again and concluded that even though my appearance changed, my identity still remained the same. This applied to Venetian people too. Even though some of the underclass dressed up and acted as aristocrats, the underclass still remained their identity. Pretending to be someone else was just for fun and for the carnival. Though it felt uncomfortable wearing the mask, it was only for that time period and it was usually fun to be different once for a while. Other people’s performances with the masks on also confirmed my conclusion: they still greet people shyly or hesitated, not acting like the mask characters but themselves. And they did not change greatly because of the masks, even though most of them enjoy hiding behind the masks. 

After the IPLACE class, I thought of the question discussed in class: what is the purpose of masking? The Burke’s reading said it mocked the “Venetian way of life, clothes and frugality to their faces” and my classmate said it let people to see the society from a different perspective. However, concluding from my experience, I would say masking was just a part of the carnival, most about entertainment and a license to all kinds of crazy things. 

Anling Deng