Male Rape, Femicide, and Torture: How “Borgia: Faith and Fear” Demystifies the Italian Renaissance


  • Annachiara Mariani The University of Tennessee



Television series, Renaissance, Borgia, demythologize, historicity


This article argues the growing interest in investigating how popular historical television series recreates and represents the past by comparing the creative and representational choices of Tom Fontana’s Borgia: Faith and Fear (Canal+, 2011-14) with those of Neil Jordan’s The Borgias (Showtime, 2011-13). The comparison aims to show how these historical television series have boosted the public’s interest in the branding of Italy, the Italian Renaissance and, at the same time, managed to create a unique sense of historical engagement. I call this phenomenon ‘historicity,’ that is, something that ‘might have happened’ given the violent milieu of the times.

Even though the creators and writers alter and adapt certain facts, they successfully manage to make the viewers ‘travel through time’ and emotionally engage them with the past, allowing them to meet—virtually, of course— the characters and experience events that shaped Italian and European history from 1492-1503. I intend to show how Fontana’s Borgia, in particular, succeeds in de-mythologizing the Renaissance by shattering the mythical depiction of a golden age and focusing, instead, on the prevailing unbridled violence of the times. Fontana’s narrative does not shy away from displaying the most atrocious tortures, disfigurements, feminicides and male rapes. Although some of these scenes are certainly alienating and shocking, and may leave the audience uncomfortable and even appalled, they succeed in reawakening historical consciousness through affective engagement, narrative transportation, and the proximity effect.


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TV Series Cited

Borgia (2011-2014)

The Borgias (2011-2013)

The Tudors (2007-2010)




How to Cite

Mariani, A. (2024). Male Rape, Femicide, and Torture: How “Borgia: Faith and Fear” Demystifies the Italian Renaissance. Series - International Journal of TV Serial Narratives, 9(1), 47–62.



Culture / Reception / Consumption