Serial Sacrifices: a Semiotic Analysis of Downton Abbey ideology

Keywords: Downton Abbey, Semiotics, television series, drama, sacrifice, nostalgia,


The goal of this article is to analyze from a narrative point of view British television drama Downton Abbey (six seasons from 2010 to 2015), to show how a coherent ideological system is expressed by a television series. Previous literature has identified a “conservative” ideology in Downton Abbey and this article aims to describe the main features of this ideology and the narrative elements that propose them. A structural semiotic approach (mainly based on the theory and models of Algirdas Julien Greimas) has been used to analyze “deep” and abstract levels of narration, such as narrative functions and subjects’ programs. Textual analysis shows how a highly stratified society, led by aristocracy, is described and proposed as a good model. Moreover, aristocracy is proposed as a sacred space that assures this order and that cannot be altered. In fact, the final part of the article analyzes a recurring narrative schema in Downton Abbey: when social change (otherwise tolerated) violates the sacred border of aristocracy, the sacrifice of a character is requested.


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Author Biography

Piero Polidoro, Università LUMSA di Roma

Piero Polidoro is Assistant Professor (Ricercatore) in Semiotics at LUMSA University in Rome. He has obtained is PhD in Semiotics at University of Bologna under the supervision of Umberto Eco and Patrizia Violi. His main interests are General Semiotics, Visual Semiotics and application of Semiotics to digital media. Among his publications the volumes Che cos’è la semiotica visiva (2008) and Umberto Eco e il dibattito sull’iconismo (2012). He has written many articles in Italian and English.


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How to Cite
Polidoro, P. (2016). Serial Sacrifices: a Semiotic Analysis of Downton Abbey ideology. Between, 6(11).