Here’s the thing about colonialism: there’s no good version of it. There’s no country whose colonial aspirations and actions didn’t abuse and destroy the colonized peoples and countries. So Dryden’s attempts in this play to cast Britain’s own nascent colonial exploits as “better” by demonizing the Spanish and creating a disparity between “their colonialism” and “our colonialism” is ridiculous. It’s misguiding patriotism at the best, delusional nationalism at worst.
Even at the time that Dryden was writing, Britain was perpetrating some of the same borderline barbarism in which the Catholics engaged in South America. The only difference betwixt the two was that British subjects sweetly perpetrated the murder, abuse, and exploitation of native people in the name of “religious freedom and expansion of the empire,” whereas the Spanish Catholics were up-front about their goals of conversion and money-grabbing. The concept of white-man’s-burden had yet to be so succinctly articulated, but even so, the pilgrims advocated their religion just as strongly to the natives as the Spanish did. And, though this was a small phenomenon at the time of Indian Emperour’s publishing that became all the rage in later colonial years, murdering indigenous peoples and “romancing” (read: sexually assaulting or coercing) them was just as big a problem in the Northern colonies as it was in Southern America (and as it would become across Africa, the Polynesian isles, etc.)
Just as television and films can play an insidious role as propaganda in our era, so did plays in Dryden’s era. Playwrights were often carefully monitored and guided by the ruling class to create subtly nationalistic pieces of art that flattered the monarchy and drummed up support for British endeavors (One could write a litany on how many of Shakespeare’s plays were intended to please and flatter the various monarchs and nobles for which he wrote). Even since the dawn of theatre, when attending the plays was a civic duty for Athenian land-holding men, theatre has been a tool through which the governing body hands down morals and ideals to the citizens; Dryden’s era was no different. He knew his “civic duty” to create anti-Catholic sentiment while creating love for British colonialism–two birds one stone as it would be–and he duly created a piece of faulty propaganda only for its time. We as post-modern readers can recognize the gross and disrespectful portrayals (of both indigenous peoples and conquerors) in this piece as what they are–caricatures designed to sway British citizens to the opinion of the state. Dryden created this characters and participated in the propagation of pro-colonial sentiment, one that would go on to ravage the better part of the world in a multitude of ways. And if that isn’t the definition of crusty, I don’t know what is.