Carnival farrago, part 2By
Here are a few more morsels of lore about Carnival back in the Old Days:
Laws: I realize that the Carnival motto is “anything goes,” which makes the idea of laws somewhat incongruous. But “anything” could — and did — lead to enough dangerous and unstable behavior over time that the adults supposedly supervising this city-wide party were forced to set some ground rules. Their significance is pretty obvious. For example:
It was forbidden in 1703 to wear the bauta in the ridotti, or gambling houses. The government was apparently the last to realize (after centuries of Carnival) that being completely disguised was a great way to hide from your creditors. So, no hiding behind masks and capes for any nefarious purpose, because they were also …
- … a great way to conceal your identity as you lurked around stealing things and killing people. On February 11, 1720, the government decreed that the capo, or head, of each neighborhood was to patrol his territory with eight men every night of Carnival; there had to be some effort made to limit, if not completely prevent, the mayhem and murder that seemed to be the natural consequence of fun and frolic. It must have been a great time to settle scores.
- It was forbidden to wear masks during a plague.
- It was forbidden to carry weapons if you were masked. Duh.
- It was forbidden to dress up as a priest and it was most especially forbidden for men to dress up as nuns. If they did either of these things, it was just too easy for them to enter convents or churches and debauch the sisters. Not that the nuns cared, especially; a large percentage of them didn’t want to be Brides of Christ in the first place, and plenty of them absolutely made the most of Carnival anonymity. I’m presuming that women had also been making the most of voluminous Carnival coverings to visit the monasteries.
Just to make sure there was a stop to this particular bit of chicanery, on January 24, 1458 it was decreed that nobody wearing a mask would be permitted to enter a church, convent, or any other sacred place. Period.
The Carnival Calendar:
You couldn’t wear masks just any time you felt like it. It was like hunting season, with fairly specific dates:
It started in October, when everybody came back from summer vacation in their country villas, and the theatres began to open. At its height, Venice had 17 theatres, an extraordinary number for a city in those days. And Carnival continued, with a brief interruption for Christmas, until Ash Wednesday ushered in Lent.
Masks were also allowed to be worn during the two weeks of the feast of the Ascension and its phenomenal market, which filled the Piazza San Marco with vendors from all over the Mediterranean basin and beyond.
And then there was the convenient clause of “and whenever appropriate” (as I think of it). Masks could be permitted by special decree for very special occasions. For example, masks were allowed during the celebrations of the victory of the Battle of Lepanto (1571). Among the countless public festivities was a parade of allegorical floats: “Christianity” was represented in the act of crushing a chained dragon; “Victory” vaunted itself over the vanquished; and “Death” was triumphant, complete with sickle. It was all party, all the time for several weeks, and that could only mean break out the masks.
In any case, in good times or bad, one unassailable rule was that Carnival could not be interrupted. When doge Paolo Renier died on February 13, 1789, they didn’t report the death until March 2.