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Venice IncognitoMasks in the Serene Republic$
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James Johnson

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780520267718

Published to California Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520267718.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CALIFORNIA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.california.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of California Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CALSO for personal use.date: 28 September 2021

The Mask of Sincerity

The Mask of Sincerity

(p.192) CHAPTER 19 The Mask of Sincerity
Venice Incognito

James H. Johnson

University of California Press

This chapter discusses the mask of sincerity. In the strange world of Venetian masking, where masks helped to preserve hierarchy by temporarily suspending it, masking was by and large honest. Masks generally inspired acts of deception but their more common use was closer to dissembling that to feigning. Masks were “veils of honest obscurity”. For the officials, the threat of the masks was not the identity itself but the equalizing effects of the mask. This concern was pegged on the notion that equality would undermine and cause insubordination. Subordination affirmed the solidity of the Republic and from it the society of Venice depended. Masks were argued to conceal identity but could not alter it. This is how a population that embraced masks could abhor imposture. The grumbling about equality was one thing while the outrage over those who assumed a false identity was something else altogether. To countenance masks while abominating imposture was no contradiction. Both grew from a culture that held one’s essence as inalterable. Those who challenged that belief paid dearly. In Venice, the social identity was dictated by birth. Challenges by impostors to hierarchies rooted in birth provide insight into the historical development of identity. Whether used to bear witness to the inmost conscience or to deceive shamelessly, the terms of sincerity asserted that self was a legitimate authority against dominant beliefs, traditions, and institutions. From within the constraining webs of religion, gender, rank, and community norms, the masks provided actors and people venues to survive, to cope, and to change things.

Keywords:   mask of sincerity, Venetian masking, Masks, subordination, social identity, identity

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