The Indian Emperour by John Dryden is a heroic drama that tells the story of the Spanish Conquistadors arriving in Mexico, aiming to colonize the land and conquor the Aztec empire. The main Character is the famed Spanish Explorer Hernan Cortes. As with many Heroic Dramas, the plot hinges upon both the main character’s devotion to his country and his goal, yet Dryden introduces the element of unexpected Love between Cortes and Cydaria ( A daughter of Montezuma, the Aztec ruler) to both add some moral complexity to the story as well as metaphorically capture the relationship between the imperialists and the native peoples they interacted with.
Within the play, the main character, Cortes, seems to be representative of the concept of Imperialism: he is strong, bold, willing to risk his life for his country and its inhabitants, and wishes to see whatever task he is given to the end if his goal will benefit his homeland. Conversely, Cydaria, the love interest, seems to represent the natives of the land imperialists attempt to colonize: she is exotic, feminine, and, more prominently, the daughter of the ruler of the Aztecs. These two characters and their unexpected yet passionate love seem to be a metaphor for Europe’s infatuation with exotic and unexplored lands.
Despite the passion of Cortes and Cydaria’s unrequited love, Dryden left the ultimate fate of their relationship ambiguous, only hitning at their possible union. This romantic ambiguity served two purposes: to make a statement about Europe’s relationship with Native people as well as provide drama for theatre audiences. The former purpose seemed to be Dryden’s attempt to emphasize the Imperialist countries lust for the resources, land, and power that previously unexplored places of the globe such as Mexico had to offer. In hinting at the union between Cortes and Cydaria, or, metaphorically, Imperialism and Native Land, Dryden suggests that there may always exist the love for conquering and exploring from Imperialist nations, even if nothing seems to come of it. Furthermore, the latter purpose was Dryden’s motive as a playwright to leave the audience thinking. While Dryden did craft a beautiful and bold piece of literature with The Indian Emporour, the historic manuscript was still intended to be a play, and plays, especially during the Restoration, were the most popular (and often most controversial) forms of entertainment. The ambiguity of love that Dryden leaves his audiences with is both powerful and thought-provoking, and even centuries later prompts controversial discussion.