Published in Architectural Space in Eighteenth-Century Europe: Constructing Identities and Interiors, January 1, 2010, pages 149-168.
Reprinted by permission of the Publishers from 'The Space of the Mask: From Stage to Ridotto', in Architectural Space in Eighteenth-Century Europe ed. Denise Amy Baxter and Meredith Martin (Farnharm etc.: Ashgate, 2010), pp 146-168. Copyright © 2010
In this chapter, I consider the means of participation within the public sphere of eighteenth- century Venice. My interest is to flesh out the nature of discourse within interior institutional spaces, and I will do so through a discussion of two related phenomena. First, I will examine the role of the mask, which by the eighteenth century had become synonymous with Venetian carnival and debauchery. Indeed, Venice in the eighteenth century gained much of its naughty reputation due to the exploits of Sior Maschere. Masks, however, were not only worn for amusement or the possibility of anonymous pleasure. During the carnival season, masking was regulated and required for entry into interior public spaces such as ridotti (gaming halls) and theaters.
Ironically; at the same time that masks were regulated within the theater of the city, they began to leave the stage of the theater proper. In the second part of the chapter, I will discuss this shift through exploring the transformation of the nature and subject matter of theatrical productions, from the tradition of the commedia dell'arte to character plays. The significance of character plays was embodied in the public quarrel of two playwrights: Carlo Coldoni and Carlo Cozzi. In each writer's work, unmasked characters replaced the masked roles of the commedia dell'arte. The words and actions of the unmasked characters, however, must be read as thinly masked attacks by each author against the other. My wager is that the existence of such masking - one physical, the other symbolic - created a nuanced form of participation within the evolving public realm and had a direct affect on identity and the self in the eighteenth century.