Floating City

Melanie Schwagerl

Identities vary widely among groups of people. My personal identity is largely different from those of my family and friends. People in society will try to cover up their social status by buying certain items to skew the way others perceive them. For instance, if someone is of a lower socioeconomic status they may try to wear nicer clothing to make people believe that they lead an affluent lifestyle. In Venice during Carnival, people dress up and alter their identities through the use of masks. People with low social status will wear extravagant masks to allow people to believe that they belong to a different social class. During Carnival, everyone is equal and on the same playing field. There is equal opportunity for everyone to make an impression on society. By wearing a mask your identity is wiped clean. “Foreign visitors were impressed by the way in which maskers, despite their numbers, not only dressed but also acted out their roles.” This shows how once people put masks on, they had the opportunity to change their candid selves and act an alternate way to fill the new role the mask gave them. At times when Carnival was not taking place, Venetians had to adhere to a rigid class system. Masking gave venetians a break from the rigid class structure and a chance to alter their identities

            After reading about the history of Carnival in Venice I formed an opinion on the tradition, which gave me a biased view going into the mask activity. Upon going into the activity I believed that once I put a mask on I’d be able to come across as a different person, as people did at Carnival. My biased view was correct. Once I placed my first mask on I felt obligated to act a certain way to uphold the personality of my mask. My first mask was very extravagant and bold and therefore I presented myself to my peers with confidence. If I had worn this mask at the real Carnival in Venice, people would have assumed that I belonged to the upper class because it was a very lavish mask. This shows how much a mask can alter your identity.

            My next mask was very small and simple and did not stand out nearly as much as the first mask. With this mask I became more reserved and tried not to stand out as much. Just by wearing a simpler mask I automatically felt less important and as if no one noticed me. By wearing various masks I felt completely different from my usual self. I felt as if I could not express my true identity and that there was this alternate being portraying me to society. I couldn’t act normally with a mask on. I had to play along with the character that the mask created for me. From the readings, I can infer that the Venetians felt free while wearing masks. In the past, those of lower classes would live vicariously through the masks. If they wore lavish masks they could pretend that they belonged to a higher class.

            This exercise showed me that there is a very clear relationship between physical appearance and identity. Your identity may be impacted by your outward appearance. Simply by wearing a mask, your social status and true self is skewed and changed. Masks give a false identity to the public. Without masks you can identify people without difficulty. You can identify various facial expressions and determine different attitudes and personalities of people. With a mask on these expressions are hidden. The readings discussed how the lower class people would wear masks to hide their true identity, which would prevent them from feeling subordinate to the rest of society. Carnival was a great time to diminish the importance of social classes and to give people equal opportunity to feel noticed and important during the great festivities. Or on the other hand, if someone of an upper class wanted to hide themselves from the spotlights in society, they could wear a simpler mask to blend in with middle/lower class people and to disappear form their usual roles in society.


Melanie Schwagerl

Photo of myself wearing a traditional Venetian Mask. 

Creator: Melanie Schwagerl

Date: Feburary 11th 2015

Melanie Schwagerl

Traditional Venetian Mask

Creater: Unknown

Source: masksofvenice.co.uk

Melanie Schwagerl