I wanted a close, almost claustrophobic, setting for my alt. history world in ‘Renaissance’. I needed a space in which it was normal that people who wished to be discreet might disguise themselves, as a matter of course, as a response to societal oppression. I turned to the example of Venice.
Venice is small, even today, hemmed in by the lagoon. Where there are streets they are narrow, often no more than alleys where two people can squeeze past each other. In the Middle Ages this thriving, jostling, densely populated, mercantile Republic had many reasons for people to be masked: discretion in matters of business, to disguise a person’s class or status and for affairs of lust or love. In some cases it was required to wear masks for anonymity in political matters. The Venetian Republic had an extremely oppressive political regime with many spies in all strata of society. Anonymity in the streets and meeting places had practical and social benefits that all levels of society took advantage of.
I have sought to create a similar world; a small, densely populated City with a seedy underground of narrow streets where violence and poverty co-exist with officially and socially disapproved pleasures. Such a world might well drive people, as it did in Venice, to conceal their identity behind masks to regain their freedom, or indeed create entirely new personae for their public.