John Dryden’s The Indian Emperor addresses the conflict between the Spaniards and the natives where honor and love are up for battle. And honor to one’s nationality, story/history and title is more valuable than one’s love to someone who is on the complete opposite spectrum than one’s self. That was the position of Cortez and Cydaria, where they couldn’t be true to their love, because of their pride and honor to their nationalities. The women in this play were used for entertainment, while Cydaria had a little more power than the others because she influenced Cortez to call to a stop the battle that was arising. Their love, was almost as strong as their individual honor to their nationalities. My speculation as to why Dryden didn’t write them into matrimony is because of realistic consequences to their love in the time the play was placed. For one, it wouldn’t have been favored, but also, it would have turned the play into a type of cliché. Though it may feel that all the drama was built for nothing because they didn’t end up in matrimony, I feel like things like that make stories better because as the audience, not only are you upset about it, but you’re supposed to think, like we are now, “why didn’t they end up in matrimony?” Which makes you question things broader than their matrimony, such as the time span of this event, the “class” division/power and even the gender roles as many of my class mates have brought to our attention in their posts. They also write about how Cydaria was able to get to Cortez about his decisions, but she wasn’t “powerful” enough to end up in matrimony with him, for the unclear reasons that I’m trying to address that were bigger than them.
Throughout John Dryden’s The Indian Emperor, Dryden uses characters such as Montezuma Cydaria, Almeria, and Cortez to create doubt and anxiety in the minds of those who would have watched this play. Dryden does this by portraying the Aztecan people as those who choose war over peace, and by utilizing the unknown outcome of the relationship between Cydaria and Cortez to send a message to the audience watching this play.
Characters such Montezuma and Cortez portray the men of honor in The Indian Emperor. These two men hold their own in this play for their honor. For example, when given the chance to stay alive under the Spaniards, Montezuma’s pride takes over as he says, “Kings and their Crowns have but one destiny: Power is their life, when that expires they die.” (64) I would imagine that for the audience watching this play would connect this to the death of King Charles Ⅰ. However, this is a new situation, a new problem. Placing our focus on Act Ⅴ Scene Ⅱ, the Christian Priest is attempting to convert Montezuma and the Indian High Priest to Catholicism, without much luck. However, seeing Montezuma strapped against __. During class, we made connections to this scene recreating the crucifixion. However in this moment I would argue that Montezuma has been temporarily converted to Catholicism, and the only way for Montezuma to preserve his honor is by killing himself in the end.
As for Cortez, whose honor is maintained by following his king’s orders instead of his passion for Cydaria. Cortez opts to go through the plan of overtaking the Aztecans, but his eventual decision to make amends with Montezuma helps maintain his honor of being the “bigger man”. Also his ending with no certain promise of the future between him and Cydaria is an indicator to the audience watching that this wasn’t a happy ending. Cortez, who while the hero is still a Spanish Catholic man, has just swept in and “saved” the “savages” of the Aztec Empire. However the idea of him going through all of this, including choosing honor over Cydaria at one point, would be proven useless for him to just take a bride for himself in the end. I would argue Dryden uses Cydaria, and the other women of this play, as nothing more than obstacles his brave heroes must get past. Whether to be blinded by love or admired for honor would be the choice of the heroes, and Cortez must choose honor.
The romance between Cortez and Cydaria is to emphasize the conflicts that these two different cultures of English and Spanish contrast with one another during the time. There is a danger within loving her because it conflicts with the duties that he have been assigned to him with being a general. He has to decide between wanting to respect the honor of his people and giving up the honor for a love to a woman that conflicts with his beliefs. It is the internal struggle of the man still trying to figure out what the best thing to do for himself. The romance between a general and a native woman already seems like dreadful water to tread and that helps to highlight the dangers of love when inn. For a man devoted to nationalism and raised to believe that his country is what he should follow, there is no room for emotions. A command is a command no matter what the consequences that follow and therefore in dividing and conquering there are no time for input of emotions.
The Catholic Conquistadors realistic portrayal according to history paints them as brutal people who are there to eliminate those who stand in their way. In the terms of the text they hope to save those who seek salvation from the wild that are the Aztec natives. The honor of carrying their beliefs along to a new land promotes a sense of gratitude to their life as Catholics. Their beliefs blind them from seeing the destruction that they are causing as they walk along the path and becoming invaders instead of saviors. Knowing what we know from the history classes that teach we know the truth but during those times, there was no way to know the truth. People viewed the conquistadors as people who were heroes hence the reason why the play is placed in the heroic verse. The heroism diverges the original perspective of what people saw in the conquistadors and instead make them protectors of the truthful good.
Pride and honor was a great theme that controlled the characters in the play. Cortez and Cydaria couldn’t have ended up together because that wasn’t realistic. Dryden didn’t write about all the horrors that occurred during the Spanish invasion of the Aztecs, however, he did have themes that were accurate to the invasion. Honor and pride was a central theme in how the characters in the play took action. Cortez refused Cydaria’s love in the end to complete his mission of conquering the new world. His love and greed for power was much greater than the love he had for Cydaria. Montezuma’s and Almeria’s pride was too much that they refused to be slaved by Cortez so they committed suicide. Rather than have their images as strong leaders be destroyed and have their people see them powerless, they decided to kill themselves. Dryden greatly depicted the greed that the Spaniards had in conquering the Aztecs and the honor that both cultures had.
In Dryden’s The Indian Emperour, it shows a conflict between choosing love or choosing honor. Cortez, a Spanish conquistador and Cydaria, an Aztec native are intertwined in this love they have for each other. Dryden uses their love to portray battle between catholic conquistadors and the Aztecs. He used Cortez in a way where he leaves Cydaria and battles for his king. The Catholic conquistadors are people who will brutally kill people to get what they want. And Cortez did just that for his king and he knew that his king’s orders were flawed but he still obeyed it. Dryden did not want an ending where they end up happily together. Their love was a reflection of the battle between the imperialists and the Aztecs. There will be no union.
There is a sense of nationalism portrayed through Cortez and Cydaria. No matter how much Cydaria wanted to hold on to Cortez, his faithfulness to someone else was stronger; his monarchy. During their time, a white man and an indigenous woman being together was unheard of. So the story of them was not as relevant as the battle itself.
Dryden knew that realistically, Cortez and Cydaria could not end up together. There can be no unionization between the two. The same goes to the conquistadors and the Aztec natives. During the time the play took place, theater was about portraying political views and issues in politics. By having a happy ending, it would seem as if Dryden was sweeping the issues away and not giving the audience what they came to see.
John Dryden’s The Indian Emperour is a play fit for the restoration theater. In making the decision to not unite Cydaria and Cortez the play writer is consciously catering to an audience which is dedicated to parading nationalism within the theatre, however, not just any nationalism. The restoration theatre focused it’s honor upon the English. For this reason Cortez is an unlikely hero because he is Spanish, however, he bares what we call “english” qualities. Such as not mixing with those terrible indigenous people! According to the play, anyway.
It was not something out of the ordinary for the Spanish to take women, but Cortez does not in the play. While it may be said that he leaves her in order to represent an english hero, I think that it is deeper than that. To me, not taking Cydaria holds a darker truth. No matter how much Cortez thinks he loves Cydaria, he doesn’t because he doesn’t love her people. Despite however he thinks felt for her, he only felt that way because she was a woman that awakened passions in him. However, that was all. He could not truly love Cydaria if he thought deep down the people she came from were “savages”. He fetishized how different she was from the women he was accustomed to seeing were, but in the end he didn’t see her as a person. Given women were already not seen as actual people, a colored woman didn’t stand a chance.
Although he does try to stop the massacre because of her when he goes to Pizarro and says:
Honour, be gone, what art thou but a breath?
I’le live, proud of my infamy and shame,
Grac’d by no Triumph but a Lover’s name;
Men can but say Love did his reason blind,
And Love’s the noblest frailty of the mind.
Draw off my Men, the War’s already done.
He only does it because he is infatuated with Cydaria, and listens to what she says, but he never tries in the play to see the people around her as actual people. Although the audience sees Cortez in a good light, it’s only because Dryden uses Pizzaro as a character foil to suggest Cortez isn’t THAT bad. After all, even though Cortez is also only there for the gold, he’s also in Mexico to save those savages! His white man’s burden of being the savior of these people is amplified. In the end Cortez can’t truly truly love Cydaria if he thinks she would be so much better if she just wasn’t everything she was (not catholic). Truly loving someone means not seeing ourselves as being superior to them.
John Dryden seems to be conveying his own perspective on the religion of Catholicism in The Indian Emperour. It seems to be a foreshadowing of Dryden’s own life as he himself, converts to Catholicism later on. The theme of the story seems be love vs honor, as seen in the playwright that even though Cortez falls in love with Cydaria, he still follows his orders of taking the natives to war and capturing their land.The story shows two different sides; the Aztecs and the Spanish Conquistadors. Cortez, a Spanish general, falls in love with Cydaria, the daughter of the Emperor of Mexico. As shown in act 3, scene 2, Obrellan tricks Cortez into thinking he is being harassed but is really there to assassinate Cortez. Cortez is warned about this and challenges Orbellan to a duel in which he wins but leaves Orbellan due to honor and claims that he will attack the city the next day (30-32). Because of this, it shows that Cortez is not that bad of a person. He respects the challenge of a duel when he can easily call his allies to help defeat Orbellan. This could be Dryden’s take on the idea of Catholicism; that maybe the religion and its followers are not so bad after-all. It also displays Dryden’s admiration to the idea of Catholicism. It sounds like he’s romanticizing this character of Cortez by giving him characteristics such as being honorable and flirtatious.
Dryden might also be onto something else here; Catholicism may have its good side but also its bad side. As seen in the story, Francisco Pizzaro, a commander under Cortez, is greedy and will do anything for gold. One can view this as corruption as he is motivated by the riches of gold and will do anything to get it. As seen in act 5, scene 2, Pizzaro and a Catholic priest are torturing Montezuma and the High Priest to show the location of the gold. “How wickedly he hasrefus’d his Wealth, and hid his gold from Christian hands by stealth” (57). This describes Pizzaro’s profound greed for gold and is willing to forcefully convert both Montezuma and the High Priest to Christianity. Although Montezuma refused, the High Priest wanted to reveal the location but was killed instead. Dryden could be suggesting that the idea of Catholicism might be forced upon them. This can be seen as a parallel to an event in 1670, where King Charles II signed a treaty with French King Louis XIV, in which he agrees to convert to Catholicism and support the war against the Dutch in return for money. In comparison, it shows the corruption of the Catholics and how it has spread to even the King of England. Even though King Charles II didn’t really convert until his death, it shows that Catholicism has spread to even the highest of power. Thus, showing the influence and fear of Catholicism.
Speaking of the French, during the reign of King Louis XIV, the religion of Catholicism was the norm. Not only France, but also Italy. And what is English but is inspired by the French and Italians? The Restoration Theater. As discussed in the lecture notes, the stage area during the Restoration period was borrowed from the Italian and French theatre. Now all of this may not sound so bad, but it does prove that there is French/Italian roots to English theatre. That since both of them are Catholic countries, it should imply that the fear of Catholicism is alive and well. Dryden may be using this story, The Indian Emperour as a predictor for future outcomes of what is to become of England.
The metaphorical battle between the catholic conquistadors and Aztec natives is very prevalent and unwavering in The Indian Emperour. From my understanding of the play, the relationship between Cydaria and Cortez played a vital role in displaying the important cultural values of both Catholic conquistadors and Aztec natives. Using the relationship of Cydaria and Cortez as a metaphor for showing the doubts the playwright had, Dryden used Restoration theater to explore ideas that were relevant to the times. It was intentional for Dryden to not allow Cydaria and Cortez to have an happy ending. Cortez left Cydaria to fight in honor of his king. This action symbolizes how the imperialists and the Aztec natives may never be able to make peace with each other due to cultural differences. The imperialists view the Aztec natives as ancient people who are below them while the Aztec natives view the imperialists as terrifying big wigs. It seems that the society that the imperialists and Aztec natives are against each other due to their differences in values. Value is significant in culture and shows people what is important in a certain society. Aztec natives view traditions and customs as valuable while imperialists view value in dollar value and status. The inconsistent values between these two groups gives life to the restoration era. The restoration era gives a sort of comic relief to significant situations happening in a certain time and society. How did The Indian Emperor change or affect the restoration era?
In John Dryden’s The Indian Emperor, first performed in spring of 1665, shows the cultural change of around the theater from the times of shakespeare to the restoration period. The Dichotomy of honor and love defines how plays during the restoration period different to plays during shakespeare’s england. The cultural contrast between the times of shakespeare and Dryden’s The Indian Emperor is seen in the differences of the people that attended the performances, the themes within the plays, and the theater houses themselves.
The crowds that attended english theaters during the 16th and 17th century are vastly different. This difference caused major cultural changes in all aspects of the theater. In England during the 16th century theater was was for the common man. During the 17th century, the restoration, the majority of those that attend the theater were the wealth and noble. Theater during this time period was a place to see and be seen. This difference in attends affected the cost of attendance which meant that people from the lower class were able to to attend the theater during the 16th century. This higher attendance of the lower class caused playwrights like Shakespeare and Marlowe to have difference in the content and language when comparing their work to Dryden’s. The work of Shakespeare had more elements of dark humor and sexual references than plays during the restoration period. This was due in part because these playwrights wrote for different crowds. This change in attendance caused a major difference in the designs and layout of theater houses. The restoration brought in more grandeur and luxury into the design of the theater houses. This differences between these two time period is seen in the amount of luxury boxes, the price of attendance and the layout of the ground floor. Because the royal family and other nobility attended 17th century theater it caused changes in the content and themes in theater to change. Dryden had to entertain his crowd so he choose to write about nationalism, honor and love. By writing about the Spanish conquest of Central America it shows Dyrden’s views on English superiority over rival imperialist nations. Dryden’s wrote about the Spanish’s struggles to conquer these natives to show English nationalism and superiority because that’s what resonated with the audience. In the eyes of these nobles and english royalty the England would not have struggled to conquer Central America.
In John Dryden’s The Indian Emperour, the theme of love versus honor, private interests versus the public good, drives the characters’ dramatic actions, especially between the conquering male Spaniards and the female natives. However, while the play’s ending hints at the requited love between Cydaria and Cortez, Dryden never explicitly brings them together in union and matrimony. In making this decision, is the playwright conveying to his audience doubts or anxieties about the relationship between the foreign imperialists (Catholic Conquistadors) and the Aztec natives? Situate your answer in the context of the Restoration theater and politics that colored the audiences’ reception of the play (feel free to reference the inserted images).
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Scene from John Dryden’s “The Indian Emperour or the Conquest of Mexico,” print by English artist William Hogarth, 1732. The play is here staged in a private English residence.