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.