After reading the essay by Peter Burke about Carnival and its customs, I learned about the uniqueness of the tradition and how it relates to Venetian social structure. I discovered that masking allowed the Venetians to express themselves in ways that they typically could not. However, much more than the mere pageantry of Carnival, the essay talked about underlying political and gender statements that made the festival much more meaningful to the Venetians. The poor could act like nobles and women could be men, role reversals that could never happen without the help of the masks. This ability to break out of the social norms was extremely important to the Venetians as their class system and hierarchy was so engrained and difficult to disrupt. Venetians typically emphasized a particular characteristic or stereotype that frustrated them about the character they were playing and in that way, they were able to release their emotions in a controlled environment.
However, I did not truly understand how the masks could completely transform a person until I tried one on in class. Before putting on the disguise, I could not comprehend how anyone could embody a character as intensely as the Venetians did. In our readings, the author mentioned that being ‘unmasked’ was one of the biggest humiliations a Venetian could suffer. The loss of their feigned identity was so detrimental to their livelihood that no one ever dreamed of taking it off. I did not understand how all the Venetians could play along with this ‘make-believe’ social structure until I put on a mask for the first time and realized what an effect it had. Even just wearing a small mask and no costume, I could still see how the mask could change one’s personality and make them become something they are not. The two masks I tried on had very different themes and underlying tones to them which made it fun to try. While neither one of them seemed exactly like me, I enjoyed the freedom of becoming someone else for a few minutes and not having to worry about the stresses of my life.
After wearing different masks in class, I began to understand why the Venetians loved Carnival so much and how cathartic it must have been for them. Being able to express oneself without the consequences of peer pressure and societal standards is something that most people are never able to do with complete anonymity. This unique tradition of masks and alternate identity is something truly Venetian and must have been a major benefit to the society during a time when social structure was so engrained in the culture.