The British Imperialist: A Dream of the Future

In Dryden’s The Indian Emperor, the story of conquest is not the focal point of the play. The many elements, including love stories, competition, revenge, and suffering all interact with one another and make the story confusing to follow. However, these story elements are meant only to further present the British audience with the idea that when they begin to build their empire, it will be one of peace, honor, respect, and love. These attributes are presented in the character of Cortes. Despite his Spanish origins, Cortes is meant to represent England in the sympathy and respect he shows for Montezuma and the other indigenous characters in the play. The love between Cortes and the princess Cydaria transforms Cortes from a man concerned about his mission to one who despairs of the war he must wage. To find happiness, Cortes must watch many of his comrades and the innocent native people he came to convert die. While Cortes represents the peaceful and merciful imperialist ideals of the British people, his love with Cydaria does not mean that Dryden is supporting the intermixing of British and Native American people in matrimony. Conversely, this relationship, though romantic in the play, is meant to prove that many cultures can live together in peace, just as the British idealize for their own empire. Cortes and Cydaria do not get married because their role is not to challenge classist or racist tendencies that the European world at this time very much exhibited. To have this Spanish conquistador marry the Indian princess during the play would be repelling to the audience, not to mention scandalous outside of the theater. The character of Cortes is a Spanish Catholic, and while the conquest of religious differences is supposedly an ideal of England, British society at that time was very much against the spread of Catholicism. In addition, Cydaria’s character is a member of the polytheistic Indian religion; both of these creeds are in opposition to the Church of England and Puritanism. To stage the wedding ceremony of Catholics in the play, or to present the idea that the honorable Cortes would turn his back on the Christian Lord to become a polytheistic believer would not be taken well by the audience. The Indian Emperor is full of dramatic and fantastical scenes to awe the audience, drawing them into the story in such a way as to allow them to ignore any faults of Cortes and to make them forget their racism toward the Spanish and non-Europeans. Dryden ends the play with Cortes promising a grand funeral in remembrance of the great king Montezuma because such words would not spark controversy within the theater, and leave the play out on a note of peace and mercy.

-Meredith Leonardo

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One thought on “The British Imperialist: A Dream of the Future

  1. Drydens story in your argument is not one of conquest but of a South America cover up and introduction of its natives for the British people. A cover up in sense that the positive and courageous action of Cortez does paint a warming picture for the people that could never make it too South America. You make an interesting point when discussing the audience would treat the marriage as scandalous, so much to say they would be further mention of the fictional marriage after the play concluded.
    -ashley Jackson

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