Serial Sacrifices: a Semiotic Analysis of Downton Abbey ideology

Piero Polidoro


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.


Downton Abbey; Semiotics; television series; drama; sacrifice; nostalgia;

Full Text:



Baena, Rosalía – Byker, Christa, “Dialects of Nostalgia: Downton Abbey and English Identity”, National Identities, 17:3 (2014): 259-269.

Barthes, Roland, Mytologies, Paris, Seuil, 1957.

Barthes, Roland, “Rhétorique de l’image”, Communications, 4 (1964): 40-51; now in Id. L’Obvie et l’obtus. Essais critiques III, Paris, Seuil 1982 : 25-42.

Blanchet, Robert – Vaage, Margrethe Bruun, “Don, Peggy, and Other Fictional Friends? Engaging with Characters in Television Series”, Projections, 6.2 (2012): 18-41.

Byrne, Katherine, “Adapting heritage: Class and Conservatisme in Downton Abbey”, Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice, 18.3 (2014): 311-327.

De Heusch, Luc, Sacrifice in Africa. A Structuralist Approach, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1985.

Eco, Umberto, La struttura assente, Milano, Bompiani, 1968.

Eco, Umberto, Trattato di semiotica generale, Milano, Bompiani, 1975.

Eco, Umberto, Lector in fabula, Milano, Bompiani, 1979.

Eco, Umberto, “L’innovazione nel seriale”, Id., Sugli specchi e altri saggi, Milano, Bompiani, 1985: 125-146.

Eco, Umberto, I limiti dell’interpretazione, Milano, Bompiani, 1990.

Fellowes, Julian, Downton Abbey. The Complete Scripts. Season One, New York, Harper Collins, 2013a.

Fellowes, Julian, Downton Abbey. The Complete Scripts. Season Two, New York, Harper Collins, 2013b.

Fellowes, Julian, Downton Abbey. The Complete Scripts. Season Three, New York, Harper Collins, 2015.

Freedman, Carl, “England as Ideology: From Upstairs, Downstairs to A Room with a View”, Cultural Critique, 17 (1990-1991): 79-106.

Greimas, Algirdas Julien, Du Sens, Paris, Seuil, 1970.

Greimas, Algirdas Julien, Du Sens II, Paris, Seuil, 1983.

Greimas, Algirdas Julien, “De la nostalgie. Étude de sémantique lexicale”, Actes Sémiotiques. Bulletin, 39 (1986): 5-11.

Greimas, Algirdas Julien – Courtés, Joseph, Sémiotique. Dictionnaire raisonné de la théorie du langage, Paris, Hachette, 1979.

Greimas, Algirdas Julien – Courtés, Joseph, Sémiotique. Dictionnaire raisonné de la théorie du langage. Tome II, Paris, Hachette, 1986.

Hintikka, Jakko, “Individuals, Possible Worlds and Epistemic Logic”, Noûs, 1.1 (1967): 33-62.

Hintikka, Jakko, On the Logic of Perception. Models for Modalities, Dordrecht, Reidel, 1969.

Landowski, Eric, La Société réfléchie, Paris, Seuil, 1989.

Rawls, John, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2001.

Rawls, John, Political Liberalism. Expanded Edition, New York, Columbia University Press, 2005.

Van Gennep, Arnold, Les Rites de passage, Paris, Nourry, 1909.



Article Metrics

Metrics Loading ...

Metrics powered by PLOS ALM

ISSN 2421-5821 

Between is published by the University of Cagliari - Maintenance for this OJS installation is provided by UniCA Open Journals, hosted by Sistema Bibliotecario di Ateneo.

Between Journal was founded in 2011 with the financial contribution of Fondazione Banco di Sardegna (years 2010-2011).

ISSN 2039-6597 

CC-By lockssDOAJ seal SPARC Europe