Floating City

Emily Adams


Image depicting Venetian Columbine mask from Mask-Shop.

Prior to reading about Carnival and participating in the masking, I did not have a lot of knowledge about the importance of masking in Venetian society. Masking in Venice was more than just an opportunity for people to dress up, it was a way for political conflicts in Venice to be quietly and peacefully resolved. Johnson refers to this aspect of masking as a “safety valve.” (189) I had never thought of masking as a safety valve, and trying to envision myself as a Venetian citizen participating in Carnival proved to be very difficult. When the Venetians masked themselves during Carnival, they became a totally different person; they covered their face and acted as another person. People who were great friends acted like they had never known each other, and interacted with people that were several classes above or below them. Carnival created a space where nobody felt the pressure of society; everybody was free to act how they wanted to and become a new person. One would think that covering your face would not result in a complete change of your personality, but the sensation that Venetians got while wearing a mask is the opposite of that expectation. I found it difficult to let go of my personality and identity and try to become this other person simply because my face was covered.

Venetian Merchant Mask

Image depicting an example of a Venetian Merchant Mask from Halloween Mart.

Envisioning yourself as a completely different person and then acting like that person is a lot more difficult than it seems; especially when you feel as though the person you are trying to portray has nothing in common with you. Feeling like you don’t connect with the character you are trying to portray makes it difficult to know how to act so that other people can understand what character you are trying to represent; you have to use your body movement and expressions to help people understand. Of the two masks that we tried, I had more trouble acting in the one that portrayed a Venetian merchant than I did the one that portrayed Columbine. Although the merchant mask was a rather ornate and pretty mask, the colors made it seem kind of cold and unfriendly, and I had trouble trying to act that out. The Columbine mask, on the other hand, came across as a much softer, more feminine mask; I didn’t feel like I needed to act like I stood out from everybody. The Columbine mask made me feel more soft-spoken and like I blended in with the rest of the crowd rather than stood out from it.

Venetian Maskers

Image depicting Venetian Maskers in full costume from shutterstock.

Although the masks themselves are what allow Venetians to separate themselves from reality by covering who they really are, it is more than the mask that made this period of acting so important to Venice. The mask was just a piece of a larger picture; it also involved the costume, the actions and interactions in public. Carnival allowed people to anonymously vent their frustrations with Venetian hierarchy and politics. Masking was an important part of Venetian society; it allowed people a release from their everyday pressures and constraints. To me, masking felt more like a pressure or a constraint; I had to think about acting like somebody other than myself, and connect my actions to the character that the mask portrayed.  Acting like another person was almost second-nature to Venetians, but it was more difficult for me. While I had difficulty with the concept of letting my personality go, the masking experience enhanced my understanding of its role as a “safety valve” in Venetian society.

Emily Adams