Venice Carnival from the Middle Ages to the Twenty- First Century
A Political Ritual Turned “Consumer Rite”?
Keywords:Venice, Carnival, Republic, Masks, Social Cohesion, Civic Ritual, Commodification
As with other carnivals around the world, the history of the Venetian Carnival sheds light on the complex dialectic between festivity and politics and more particularly on the growing need for political authorities to control the urban environment. This article provides a longue durée approach to carnival in Venice and unpacks the meaning of its successive metamorphoses. During the Middle Ages, Venetians used carnival as a defense strategy for their city, intended to ensure the cohesion of its various neighborhoods around a common destiny. In the fifteenth century, the legacy of public festivals for both rich and poor gave way to a more official celebration, which allowed Venice to outdo its European rivals. The civilized and policed expressions that were elaborated from the Renaissance until the eighteenth century gradually set Venetian Carnival apart from the exuberance and invertibility displayed by rustic carnivals in other parts of Europe. However watered-down and commodified present-day Venetian Carnival may seem, it continues to raise eminently political issues, most of which have to do with the appropriation of public space by private interests and the recreation of traditions for mass consumption.