Carnival and Politics

Community Matters


  • Samuel C. Kinser Professor Emeritus, Northern Illinois University



medieval history, semiotics, carnival


The purpose of this article is to widen the ways in which Carnival’s political dimensions have ordinarily been discussed. What happens politically at Carnival should be placed in the social and cultural contexts in which a performance occurs, rather than being discussed only in terms of the performance’s publicized representations. This contextual mix should in turn be understood first as composed of competing and cooperating communities, but then also as having far-reaching and lengthily enduring structural roots. The author illustrates these propositions chiefly by means of an overview of Rome’s long Carnival history. There is space only to consider in detail two key sets of Roman Carnival sources, a verbal document written in the 1140s and two engravings made in the 1550s. The analysis of their social and cultural contexts leads to two other documentary groups, one stemming from fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Nuremberg and the other from the 1570s and 1580 in Romans, France. The long-term, structural thread knitting these disparate Carnival times and places together is the figure of the bear and his humanoid cousin the wildman.

Author Biography

Samuel C. Kinser, Professor Emeritus, Northern Illinois University

Samuel Kinser, Presidential Research Professor emeritus at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois, is director of the Center for Research in Festive Culture ( His publications treat the history of festive culture in Western Europe and the Americas from the Middle Ages to the present (see, for example, Carnival American Style, Mardi Gras at New Orleans and Mobile, published by University of Chicago Press in 1990, Rabelais’s Carnival: Text, Context, Metatext, published by University of California Press in 1990). Some more recent publications are listed in the bibliography of his article for this journal.



How to Cite

Kinser, Samuel C. 2020. “Carnival and Politics: Community Matters”. Journal of Festive Studies 2 (1):41-76.