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Carnival

CARNIVAL

CARNIVAL. Celebrated widely across Europe in the early modern period during the days preceding Lent, Carnival perpetuated pre-Christian rites of farmers and herders promoting the springtime renewal of life. The occurrence of such rites in ancient Greece and Rome is formally documented; and their widespread use by various Indo-European groups has been deduced from the many analogous practices surviving into historic times throughout the continent. The name "carnival," which dates to medieval times, was probably based on the Latin carnem levare or the Italian carnelevare, 'removal of flesh', with "flesh" understood in both its alimentary and erotic meanings. It was also popularly interpreted to mean 'carne vale' or 'flesh rules'.

Carnival included a range of activities that occurred singly or in combination and that varied with local customs and conditions. The struggle between the diminished sun of the old year and the returning sun of the new year was symbolized in a battle for a prize (a castle, a wife, a football) that resulted in the death of one contender, who sometimes miraculously revived. In many locales the battles involved teams and could take the form of a dance, while in others they were replaced by contests such as races. In other traditions the old year or winter was figured as an old woman.

Winter's darkness and death, symbolized by ghostly, demonic, or deformed figures that stalked the community under the leadership of the king or queen of the dead, were frightened away by loud noise, bright colors, and fire in the form of bonfires or torches. The vitality of such activities also encouraged the return of the sun and of life-sustaining plants and animals, evoked through the Wild Man and various representations of forest and domestic animals and vegetation. A wedding or sexual activity such as dancing that was actually or symbolically promiscuous expressed the connection between human and agricultural fertility.

Renewal of human society, based on the equality of all community members, took the form of criticism of injustice and behavioral transgressions, mock trials, and rites of misrule or inversion. Low-ranking members of society assumed positions of authority and what had been excluded or despised was temporarily exalted. These rites, which often involved tension-easing comedy and the truth-telling fool, were particularly practiced in sedentary and stratified societies, such as cities and monastic communities, in which superiors and inferiors lived close together.

Masks, which may have originally mimicked the casting off of the old plant's seedhull by the germinating bud of the new plant, were utilized in rituals of release. With personal identity obscured, community members, especially women, violated taboos without fear of sanction, acting in sexually provocative ways and intruding into areas usually prohibited to them. Such freedoms also contributed to an amalgamation of the community, as did the questing or procession throughout the communal space that often accompanied masking.

Food consumption received increasing emphasis with the passage of time and the contrasting of Carnival with the fasting and abstinence of Lent, itself perhaps originating in a pagan practice fostering germination. A community feast was organized in the teeth of late-winter shortages, often through a house-to-house search for ingredients, featuring the meat, eggs, butter, and milk that would soon be prohibited. Special attention was paid to feeding the vulnerable, especially children and the poor. As the name indicates, the eating of meat, especially pork, became central to the festivities. In some locales festivities were concluded by the funeral of Carnival, conducted by the clergy or near the church.

A particularly vital period for Carnival was the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The revival of humanistic learning and especially of classical theater, which in turn stimulated existing vernacular theater; the increase in population, which threatened the relative prosperity resulting from the great wave of plague and created a variety of social tensions; the discovery of new commercial routes and colonial territories, which benefited Atlantic states and harmed Mediterranean ones; and the revival of evangelical Christianity, which valued the poor and lowlyall contributed to an innovative use of Carnival and the carnivalesque that had begun with the rise of banking and manufacturing in Italy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Theater, with its human presence and verbosity, offered many opportunities for lower-class characters to either criticize social authorities or to support them, as well as for them to propose inclusive social models and for upper-class characters to assert their control of the situation. The result was a flourishing theatrical scene, many of whose texts were disseminated and preserved through the new device of printing.

The celebration of Carnival was deeply affected by the religious reforms of the sixteenth century and later. With its emphasis on pageantry and the senses, Carnival slowly disappeared from Protestant areas, although it often left some vestigial food celebration. Even in Catholic areas, Carnival was chastened and Christianized in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Brought more under the purview of authorities, it tended to focus on magnificent ephemera such as elaborate floats. With the growing social openness of the eighteenth century, secular Carnival again flourished, producing some of its greatest theatrical achievements. A further development was its transplantation to the New World colonies, where, in a particularly apt turn of events, the French settlement in Louisiana was established on the eve of Mardi Gras, 2 March 1699. Many of the official European celebrations of Carnival ended with the end of the ancien régime.

Scholars have debated at length whether Carnival undermined or affirmed existing social authority. According to the first view, ritualized inversions and battles challenged social authority and proposed a new model incorporating those who had been excluded. In the second view, social authorities permitted Carnival as a safety valve that, through limited criticism, released enough tension to calm dissent and produce a return to the preexisting order. As the debate evolved, it became clear that the terms of Carnival are ambivalent and that the function of Carnival varied with social circumstances.

Particularly important was the strength of the social fabric: if it was too weak to contain dissent, a full-fledged revolt could develop. The function of Carnival also changed with time. The work of Victor Turner indicates that as the abundance of wealth produced by banking and manufacturing dismantled the agricultural cycle and the fixed social stratification upon which Carnival was based, the carnivalesque became suffused throughout society and the year and was more integrated into official values.

See also Catholicism ; Festivals ; Folk Tales and Fairy Tales ; Food and Drink ; Games and Play .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bakhtin, M. M. (Mikhail Mikhailovich). Rabelais and His World. Translated by Hélène Iswolsky. Reprint. Bloomington, Ind., 1984. Translation of Tvorchestvo Fransua Rable i narodnaia kul'tura srednevekov'ia i Renessansa (1965). Influential study of the elements of popular culture, subversive potential, and ambivalence of Carnival.

Bristol, Michael D. Carnival and Theater: Plebeian Culture and the Structure of Authority in Renaissance England. New York, 1985. Influential study of the uses of Carnival in England.

Burke, Peter. Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe. Revised reprint. Brookfield, Vt., 1994. Influential study emphasizing ambivalence of Carnival.

Carroll, Linda L. Angelo Beolco (Il Ruzante). Boston, 1990. Study of Renaissance playwright who wrote for Carnival.

Davis, Natalie Zemon. Society and Culture in Early Modern France. Stanford, 1975. Influential group of essays on the role of Carnival and the Carnivalesque.

Humphrey, Chris. The Politics of Carnival: Festive Misrule in Medieval England. Manchester, U.K., and New York, 2001. Emphasizes multiple uses of Carnival in medieval England.

Kinser, Samuel. Rabelais's Carnival. Berkeley, 1990.

Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel. Carnival in Romans. Translated by Mary Feeney. New York, 1979. Translation of Le Carnaval de Romans (1979). Influential study of a bloody sixteenth-century Carnival in France.

Meyer, Robert Eugene. Festivals Europe. New York, 1954. Describes Carnival traditions in European countries.

Turner, Victor. From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play. New York, 1982. Influential group of studies analyzing the functions of Carnival and theater over time.

Linda L. Carroll

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"Carnival." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Encyclopedia.com. 11 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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carnival

carnival, communal celebration, especially the religious celebration in Catholic countries that takes place just before Lent. Since early times carnivals have been accompanied by parades, masquerades, pageants, and other forms of revelry that had their origins in pre-Christian pagan rites, particularly fertility rites that were connected with the coming of spring and the rebirth of vegetation. One of the first recorded instances of an annual spring festival is the festival of Osiris in Egypt; it commemorated the renewal of life brought about by the yearly flooding of the Nile. In Athens, during the 6th cent. BC, a yearly celebration in honor of the god Dionysus was the first recorded instance of the use of a float. It was during the Roman Empire that carnivals reached an unparalleled peak of civil disorder and licentiousness. The major Roman carnivals were the Bacchanalia, the Saturnalia, and the Lupercalia. In Europe the tradition of spring fertility celebrations persisted well into Christian times, where carnivals reached their peak during the 14th and 15th cent. Because carnivals are deeply rooted in pagan superstitions and the folklore of Europe, the Roman Catholic Church was unable to stamp them out and finally accepted many of them as part of church activity. The immediate consequence of church influence may be seen in the medieval Feast of Fools, which included a mock Mass and a blasphemous impersonation of church officials. Eventually, however, the power of the church made itself felt, and the carnival was stripped of its most offending elements. The church succeeded in dominating the activities of the carnivals, and eventually they became directly related to the coming of Lent. The major celebrations are generally on Shrove Tuesday (see Mardi Gras); however, in Germany the carnival season, or Fasching, begins on the Epiphany (Jan. 6) in Bavaria and on Nov. 11 in the Rhineland. In recent times, the term carnival has also been loosely applied to include local festivals, traveling circuses, bazaars, and other celebrations of a joyous nature, regardless of their purpose or their season.

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"carnival." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 11 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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carnival

car·ni·val / ˈkärnəvəl/ • n. 1. a period of public revelry at a regular time each year, typically during the week before Lent in Roman Catholic countries, involving processions, music, dancing, and the use of masquerade. ∎ fig. an exciting or riotous mixture of something: the whole evening was a carnival of fun. 2. a traveling amusement show or circus. DERIVATIVES: car·ni·val·esque / ˌkärnəvəˈlesk/ adj.

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"carnival." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 11 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"carnival." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved December 11, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/carnival-1

carnival

carnival a period of public revelry at a regular time each year, as during the week before Lent in Roman Catholic countries, involving processions, music, dancing, and the use of masquerade. Recorded from the mid 16th century, the word comes via Italian from medieval Latin carnevelamen, carnelevarium ‘Shrovetide’, from Latin caro, carn- ‘flesh’ + levare ‘put away’.

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carnival

carnival (orig.) season of revelry immediately preceding Lent. XVI. — It. carne-, carnovale, f. L. carō, carn- flesh (see CARNAL) + levāre lighten, raise; lit. ‘cessation of flesh-eating’.

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"carnival." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 11 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"carnival." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved December 11, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/carnival-2

carnival

carnival •Ethel • lethal • brothel • betrothal •Cavell, cavil, gavel, gravel, ravel, travel •Havel, larval, marvel, Marvell, rondavel •bedevil, bevel, devil, dishevel, kevel, level, revel, split-level •daredevil • she-devil • eye level •naval, navel •coeval, evil, Khedival, medieval, primeval, retrieval, shrieval, upheaval •civil, drivel, shrivel, snivel, swivel •carnival • Percival • perspectival •festival • aestival (US estival) •adjectival, arrival, deprival, genitival, imperatival, infinitival, outrival, relatival, revival, rival, substantival, survival •archival •grovel, hovel, novel •oval •approval, removal •Lovell, shovel •interval • serval • narwhal •coequal, equal, prequel, sequel •bilingual, lingual, monolingual, multilingual •rorqual • Hywel •Daniel, spaniel

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