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


Disagreeing on how to Rule the World

Dryden’s preamble to the play begins with an immediate contradiction. The narrator claims to have “neither wholly followed the story, nor varied from it”, but this statement is both entirely accurate and completely inaccurate. The play itself is about conflicting ideology.

It is completely ahistorical, and and the creative liberty Dryden took makes the conquest Cortez led appear more superficial by portraying the general as a staunch and one-dimensional hero bound entirely by honor, but this one-dimensional superficiality is precisely that much more indicative of what colonialist ideas were at the time. The conquests Spain led were entirely one-sided and done under a guise of enlightening savages. The namesake Indian Emperor, Montezuma, was in direct opposition to Cortez, but rather than be foils to one another, the two men leading their respective factions were indelibly staunch in their principles and refused to concede them. This ultimately led to Montezuma’s demise and Cortez’ continued glorification. By humanizing the natives, Dryden serves to criticize this glorification and in turn not only criticize the effects of colonialist Spain, but emphasize a sense of moral superiority within the English audience.

The hero of the play is infallibly honorable, and although Spanish, by being infallibly honorable the English theater audience are able to both empathize with and criticize his character. They are able to promote their own notions of building an empire under a misnomer of honor, while simultaneously criticizing Spain’s atrocities. This is why Cortez and Cydaria were given an ambiguous ending to their relationship. Despite a requited romance, the two were on juxtaposing sides and cannot be together unless they entirely reconcile their differences. Similarly to how England and Spain clash ideologically, so too do the Aztecs and Spanish. Because motivations and execution differ so dramatically, the two cannot reconcile and the audience is forced to accept this.

-Kevin Martinez

As the Worlds Turn

Dryden’s The Indian Emperour, is a dramatic play on the history of Mexico’s conquest at the hands of the Spanish. In a highly dramatized version of the events that occurred, Dryden managed to turn the conquering of the indigenous people of Mexico by the Spanish, into a soap opera. Of course, this play had to take a massive amount of liberties, it must appeal to the noble class, and those who find entertainment in the theater. Dryden does a well job adding suspense, and interesting love triangles into an already tense situation of a soon to be conquered people. Credit where its deserved, Dryden has created a heroic play, with couplets paired with iambic pentameter, which gives him credit in the poetry world.

Where he doesn’t deserve credit is closed-minded Eurocentric thinking and writing of the play. In Scene 1, Act 1, Cortez, Pizzaro, and Vasquez talk about the potential bountiful of food they can grow on the land, almost as if it was granted to them by God. The conquering by Cortez is hidden by love triangles, and dry romances that lead nowhere.

Cortes’s change of heart isn’t a change of heart, but a fear of the supernatural. A curse brought upon the ‘gold’ and riches of the empire. His attempts to be charitable to Montezuma, who was his enemy is in vain, he’d rather choose death than to receive charitable help from the Spanish. Honor plagues this play, whether it be to the Gods, or for country, honor dictates this play.

Cydaria’s attempts to curtail Cortez’s campaign are useless. Cortez choose pride and country, he conquers for a flag, for Spain, for God.

Nationalism, Patriotism, Imperialism plague this soap-opera of a play, I might even call propaganda. It diminishes the power of the indigenous people who were conquered, as the Spanish got off with seemingly no punishment, hell, they even got a play dedicated to their greatest bounty.

: Robert Morales

England and Its Conquests

John Dryden hints at Cortez and Cydaria’s love at the end of the play to represent a metaphor of how England and its people put up a facade towards other countries they had ruled over. Dryden states that they are willing to interact with other individuals but not actually make connections or become close with them in a way that would benefit both sides. It does not appear as doubt or anxiety but fear of being close to those who the country has conquered. England’s purpose was to get others to have the same Christian faith as them while also gaining land. This was necessary as it was used to know more of the New World. Both, Cortez and Cydaria, shared the same thing which was their love for each while having differences. They had to deal with being on the enemy’s side and having different views. In the play, when Cortez chooses the king over Cyndaria this is a symbolism of nationalism. He was there for one thing and he was not going to stop until he got it. Their love was a symbol for the country benefiting from these conquests and not being married or having a union was a symbol for the way England had no actual responsibility of having to commit to the countries they ruled over. This is possibly why Dryden never made the characters come together with union and matrimony, one side was going to benefit more than the other and that is not what a union or marriage represent.

-Sandy Morelos

Transatlantic Abhorrence and Abolitionist “Eyes on the Prize”

Let’s look at Cruikshank’s cartoon of “John Bull taking a Clear View of the Negro Slavery Question !!”

So who is John Bull? He is a personification of England, a reoccurring representation of the country in political cartoons and graphic images. Basically, John Bull is to England, what Uncle Sam is to the United States.

The cartoon is referencing certain abolitionist causes by questioning their ethics and putting into perspective the reasoning behind the abolition movement. Robert Cruikshank is a representation of the tragic depths of disgusting unethical blindness that a man can succumb to. He attempts to enforce the right of slavery by addressing the ethical standards of those who are attacking it. To me, that’s like robbing a bank and then accusing the people that are accusing you of robbing the bank by saying that they’re being paid by the bank. The questioning of ethics in abolition is irrelevant, whatever the reason for supporting abolition completely overrides the atrocity and act of slavery. In the cartoon, Robert Cruikshank shows Barbadoes as a land that is enjoying joy through dancing, when compared to the strife that some citizens of England were experiencing. Oladauh Equiano has else to say.

“Even in the Barbadoes, notwithstanding those humane exception which I have mentioned, and others I am acquainted with, which justly make it quoted as a place where slaves meet with the best treatment and need fewest recruits of any in the West indies, yet this island requires 1000 negroes annually to keep up with the original stock, which is only 80,000. So that the whole term of a negro’s life may be said to be there but sixteen years!”(Ch. 5). Equiano explains the brevity of life in the Barbadoes and explains that it is a small portion of the massive transatlantic slave trade, in which over 10 million Africans were taken from their homes. The slavery in the United States is not discussed or scrutinized in Cruikshank’s pathetic cartoon, and he dismisses the reality of the horrors, which is ironic in that he attempts to explain the blindness of abolition when his morality is the one most at concern with the illustration.

Education helps free the world. Oladauh Equiano’s narrative was a key proponent in abolishing the transatlantic slave-trade. Abolition of the slave trade in Britain helped pave the way for the freedom of slaves In the United States. Abolitionist leaders such as William Lloyd Garrison, who wrote “No Compromise with Slavery”, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Beecher Stowe borrowed from the British abolition movement, to express their beliefs and concerns. There are further interesting analyzations that could be formulated in a term paper about the connections of Equiano and his antebellum counterparts. Oladauh Equiano advanced the chain of events leading to more equal rights, and the term “Eyes on the Prize”, refers to the civil-rights movement in the mid 20th century that involved Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and so many others. Education or the lack thereof is a direct determination in crafting a view of humanity and enables the ability to defend or in Cruikshank’s case, attack it.

– Thomas Pham

Sophia the Pretentious

In Phebe Gibbes’s Hartley House, Sophia often utilizes references to works from authors such as Dryden and Milton to demonstrate her ‘English Class’. In the book I think that Sophia utilizes the allusions or references to great english works so that she can brag about how much ‘cooler’ she is than her dear friend Arabella. Sophia in one of her many letters stated “But perhaps, instead of thinking yourself obliged to me, you will, with true European sangiford, suspect me of self- gratification in my descriptions; beware, however, of such erroneous conclusions, as you value the future favors of your own…” (Gibbs, p.14). This quote demonstrates sophia need to brag and show off to her friend how much class and cultured she is. The author does this in order to illuminate the obsessiveness the English had with their own cultural class hierarchy and to also offer a satirical analysis of the way in which the english language was used in such a complicated way to demonstrate ‘intelligence’ and along with that, ‘class’. Her reference to Dryden also emphasizes this in that Dryden was known for his admiration of the english language  so much so that he wrote The Indian Emperor, in closed couplets and iambic pentameters in a true heroic drama style. Although written in fancy English, Drydens drama is hard to follow and not easy for the average person to understand, even at that time in period. This is significant because although he is trying to uplift the english language, he is essentially uplifting nonsense. Ironically the more complicated and rare your diction and complex sentence structure was, the more intelligent you sounded which lead to a superiority complex and class distinction; even Sophia relies heavy on her cultured references and large amount of words to brag to her friend Arabella to demonstrate to Arabella how high society she is and to the reader how immature and spoiled she is.

The High Status of English Literature

Sophia Goldborne references English literary works because England is a symbol of power and high status, and in a way Goldborne feels the same about herself. When she references English literary works she doesn’t just do this to showcase the status of England, but more so of herself. Although, India is a British colony, by referring back to works by Dryden, Milton, Pope and other English authors. Sophia Goldborne is able to separate the two different societies, and she is also able to distinguish herself from her friend Arabella.

“For me the mine a thousand treasures brings;

For me health gushes from a thousand springs;

Seas roll to Wait me, suns to light me rise;

My footstool earth, my canopy the skies” (Gibbes 48).

This quote from Alexander Pope is significant because it lays out how Goldborne sees herself. Goldborne sees herself as the English in India, and how India belongs to them and it’s theirs for the taking. Goldborne is England (power and wealth) and India is everybody else. Goldborne is very egocentric, and this quotes really proves that. Notice how the quote contains ‘me’ which in this case would be Goldborne. Goldborne will have thousands of riches, the seas and sun will bow down to her, and the Earth and skies belong to her, and the world centers around her. “Suns to light me rise” can also refer to the idea that England and English literature has to be superior to all other cultures and nations because that their destiny. To be superior is Goldborne’s destiny.

Goldborne may have chosen English literature because English literature has the ability to give one’s self a sense of superiority, and in a way that showcases how Goldborne wants to be looked as. As someone who is superior and has a high status.

Beautiful Words to Describe the Grotesque

Phebe Gibbes’ Hartly House, Calcuutta is extensively completed with quotes from English poets, authors, and/or plays; one of these being William Shenstone. Within Letter XI, nearing its end of the letter, Sophia quotes Shenstone to ironically express her native beauty, all the while she is critiquing England’s hospitals (by glorifying Calcutta’s). His quote is a short one: “They love me the more when they hear/ Such tenderness fall from my tongue” (Shenstone via Gibbes, 76).

It is needed to be said that Shenstone was indeed an English poet whom wrote about all the wonders and greatness that was found in his native land, such as the English language, hence his quote. He was regarded by many as being a profound poet, Robert Burns in fact—who wrote in the preface to one of Shenstone’s poetry collections—stated that he was a “celebrated poet whose divine elegies do honour to our language, our nation, and our species” (written in 1786). The poet appears to be quite talented in his English, so much so that it brings “honour” to it.

But with this said, what place does he have in this excerpt of the epistle, that is, why does Sophia quote from him whilst critiquing England’s morality?

For the most part Sophia is describing the hospital in Calcutta with pleasurable sensations of her father’s account with it; then tells Arabella that towards England’s hospitals she ought to “promote new and salutary regulations, by publishing so noble an example as [she has] thus set before [her]” (76). To Sophia, her language—her description of the hospital—has done its beauty justice; her words alone ought to grant the construction of better hospital regulations in her native country.

The proof is in her language—appropriately so—when she is comparing her thoughts between the hospitals both wherein she resides and the one she has fled. Sophia praises Calcutta’s, whereas she disregards with disgust the other, “extolling the country [she] now resides in; and sighing for the disgraces of the country [she has] quitted” (76). Therefore, no matter how grotesque she’d like to picture the English regulations, she’ll do so with her greatest asset, thus, also her greatest contradiction: English language.

–Daniel Lizaola Lopez

The Enlightenment Discourse: A Fiction

Give it up for Samuel Johnson for being maniacal enough to write out the English dictionary. Although some could make the argument that we do, it seems that we do not often question whether our language is fit enough to be considered civilized. It is no surprise that Samuel Johnson prefaced his dictionary as if it were a manifesto ready to civilize the mouths of the English speakers—considering the fact that he is a familiar face of the Enlightenment. Like the other languages of the Western world, English is rooted primarily in Latin, but it also gained influence from other languages that were already fathered by Latin, like French. Johnson takes note of this in page 3 of his book, as he explains how they “had dominions in France.” Interestingly enough, he talks about how church service was ironically still in Latin, while this was going on, which must have created a cacophony of languages and dialects. In other words, English was formed in a crucible of languages, which disturbed people like Johnson who wished to see uniformity in their society.

In retrospect, we can see how the Enlightenment led to colonialism. Concepts like taxonomy and categorization were a solid pedestal where Westerners like the British were able to stand on and cast a gaze on foreigners while taking colonial power. Thomas Babington Macaulay assumes this power way too comfortably in the 19th century when describing “the intrinsic superiority of the Western literature” in his essay “Minute”. Macaulay is writing in response to making English a primary language in India while they were colonizing it, and proudly states he does not know anything about the language but has known enough to make an all-encompassing judgment to render their language inferior. As brutally racist and ignorant as this may be, it is following suit from the bias that Samuel Johnson had for the English language, even though he ironically held it in a lower regard. As Johnson was trying to be objective in describing why he chose to write “entire” rather than “intire” because the latter came from Latin and not French, for example, Johnson reveals that he is actually being subjective and bias. He confuses objectivity with what he strongly believes should dictate the English language, and this shows his dictionary is more a work of his own and NOT the English language. Just as much as Samuel Johnson’s pretenses for what dictates the English language are a FICTION, so are Macaulay’s claims that Western language should dictate the lives of foreigners.

–Cesar R

“Perfection of Nature”

The Houyhnhnms (the horse civilization) in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels seem like an ideal place in the eyes of the titular Gulliver, as they often seem to be surprised by the problems facing his society. While disregarding the fact that it is a race of horses, Gulliver was venting to his “master” how humans in his civilization “could never have enough” (Gulliver 231) money to spend so they are always in necessity of it because they feel it is the most fundamental basis for life. It is actually kind of Marxist of Gulliver to explain this to his “master,” and it is also kind of Marxist of the talking horse to respond with saying it is a “miserable country which cannot furnish food for its own inhabitants” (232). The Houyhnhnms seem to be the perfect civilization in the eyes of Gulliver, despite having to call one of them “master,” and being subject to the inspection and vetting of them to make sure Gulliver is not a Yahoo.

The Yahoos are a human civilization that the talking horses consider savages, which gives the Houyhnhnms the reason to believe Gulliver is one of them. The Houyhnhnms use their own frame of reference to inspect Gulliver and differentiate him from the Yahoos they have not known to be “teachable,” civil or clean (216). We have to pick up the subtle clues that these horses are not in fact an ideal race, or a city upon a hill, as Winthrop would put it. The reason the horses think of Gulliver as an exceptional Yahoo is because the Yahoos are othered in the eyes of the Houyhnhnms, so they see him as a kind of anomaly and nothing more. In other words, Gulliver is othered as well, because he is still filtered through the original stereotype of the Yahoos. Swift goes as far as to use linguistics to make this race of horses similar to the Eurocentric behavior of the people in England. Gulliver notes how the etymology of the word Houyhnhnm means “perfection of nature” (217) as jab from Swift to the hubris of the elite in his own country. The satire here is that, as readers, we cannot seem to get our mind off the fact that these are literally talking horses. This ridiculous choice from Swift is to play with the subjectivity of the reader.

Cesar Ramirez