Venice Carnival is one of the most loved and anticipated events in the city’s calendar, a time for all those who like spectacle and dressing up, a time for the suspension of the normal rules of life. This year’s Carnival runs from 4th – 21st February ending on Shrove Tuesday and heralding the start of Lenten abstinence and self-denial on Ash Wednesday.
A Christian festival which arose from pre-Christian traditions, Carnival is a time of transgression, of inversion of customary hierarchies, a time when one can throw off one’s everyday mask to express those more hidden aspects of one’s personality. It is theatre as life, a different theatre than that of the other 52 weeks of the year where people can choose their character.
‘Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth’, commented Oscar Wilde.
Today’s Carnival has many different iterations: historical role-playing, corteges of boats, spontaneous flash mobs, Cosplays (Costume Play: assuming the identity of fictional characters), games – all within a broad genre of dreams come real, deceit and illusion.
There was a time when the traditional masks, including the Venetian Bauta and the Moretta, were worn to hide one’s identity and nullify distinctions of class, sex and religion, along with selected prohibitions. Many other masks come from the Commedia dell’Arte theatrical stage tradition: Arlecchino, Pantalone, Brighella and Colombina.