The Perverse Queer Pleasures of the Costume Drama

The queer male has experienced a resurgence in prestige television historical dramas. Examples include Thomas Tallis, William Compton, George Boleyn, and Mark Smeaton in The Tudors (2007–2010); the sadistic soldier Captain Jack Randall in Outlander (2014-present); the duplicitous servant Thomas in Downton Abbey (2010–2015); and the merciless assassin Micheletto in The Borgias (2011–2013). These characters are often villainous or, sometimes more generously, pathetic, and are often punished, either through death or through simple expulsion from the narratives of history articulated by these series. Thus, they fit into the pervasive and pernicious “bury your gays” trope so common to television, and it is understandable that critics tend to read these characters with the grain of the series themselves, i.e., as either the detritus of history (that which must be left behind in order for it to move forward) or as participants in the continued marginalization of queer people in narratives about the past.

Ph.D. in English | Film and TV geek | Lover of fantasy and history | Full-time writer | Feminist and queer | Liberal scold and gadfly

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