John Dryden’s Martyred Cortez

Cortez is an outlier in Dryden’s play because he is not a Spaniard by essentialist standards. It is true that the context of Great Britain at the time was very anti-Catholic and anti-Spanish, but this does not explain the use of Hernan Cortez as a symbol of love within the play. There is a sense of a paradox here when the key figure in Conquistador history is utilized by an Englishman to create a play that criticizes the exploitation of the Mexican “Indians.” If Dryden’s goal was to demonize the Spanish Catholics, using a hierarchical figure like Cortez might have meant Dryden sympathized in some way. Although it might have something to do with Dryden’s eventual conversion to Catholicism, it also says something about Dryden’s admiration of characters who are not essentialized.

There is a pivotal moment in Cortez’s dynamic character when he sees Cydaria for the first time, and is infatuated with her. At this point Cortez stops being a conquistador and begins being human. In some regard, Dryden might have been showing that he appreciates bending of character, for people to step outside of their essentialism. The audience is left admiring those characters who are dynamic and despising those who stay the same. Toward the end of the play we see how Pizarro’s ambition is the worst of all by even allowing Vasquez some dynamic characteristic by fighting for his love of Alibech instead of gold. Pizarro, however, becomes essentialized by his last line in act four, scene three: “I the gold.” Dryden makes a martyr out of Cortez despite his Catholicism, which shows the discomfort he had with making Spaniards monolithic characters.

–Cesar Ramirez


The Indian Emperour Love vs. Honor

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.

-Naomi Van

Language in Indian Emperor

John Dryden uses his heroic play as a way to rewrite time and history. He demonstrates this by using real life characters and certain historical events (ex: Conquering the Aztec Empire). Dryden could have done this as a way to stimulate ideas such as Cortez and Montazumi representing the conflict between the church and monarchy or Catholicism vs Christianity. However, although Dryden portrayed Cortez as a masculine, heroic leader, Cortez is often making his decisions based on what the women in the play advise him to do. Although Cortez manages to obtain the highest social status of the play, he does not get Cydaria.

The play also analyzes representations of English culture and values and gender. The overseas colonization is done the ideal English way. Cortez doesn’t set out to conquer and destroy with no restraints, he attempts to be civilized and gentlemanly about it, “By noble ways we Conqueft will prepare,/ Firft offer peace,/ and that refus’d make War.” Throughout the play, Cortez makes it clear that he offers peace in order to avoid war and makes decisions that illustrate this value of honor and love. Although Cortez falls in love with Cydaria, he doesn’t let that get in the way of conquering Mexico nor shatter his loyalty to the King. We can see how far Dryden has projected English culture unto them since he has the Spaniards and Indians speaking the English language rather than their own native tongue. Language is important to Dryden. We can see this by the way the characters use their words to maintenance the  value of hierarchy. Cortez attempts to sway Montazumi into giving up his power to gain peace. He also uses romantic language towards Cydaria, “Like Travellers who wander in the Snow,/ Ion her beauty gaze till I am blind.” Language is also an instrument of cunningness and manipulation as we witness Almeria attempt to falsely claim Cortez’s affections, “She’l have too great content to find him true/ And therefore fince his Love is not for me,/ I’le help to make my Rivals mifery./ Spaniard, I never thought you falfe before:/ Keep the poor Soul no longer in fufpence,/ Your change is fuch as does not need defence.” As we can see, Almeria is cunning to turn Cydaria’s misunderstanding to her advantage. If there is one thing to be admired in this play is the use of figurative language and structure.

Dryden might not have included the ending as Cortez marrying Cydaria because it would have scandalized the audience. It would also have been better for Cydaria to not marry because then Cortez would have had control over her social, economic, and political status.

-Ana Diaz-Galvan

Unrealistic Love in a Spanish Conquest

Had John Dryden written this story with a sense of truth behind it–how Cortez really would have dealt about the situation–we’d have been reading a much more violent tale. The Spanish Conquistadors raided towns in Mexico, killing the men, even the children, and kept the women for sexual relations. It needn’t really to be said that the real Cortez would not have waited so long to take Cydaria; he’d have killed them all and had his way. This was the reality of the Spanish conquest. As for why he and Cydaria did not end up together, that simply ought to do with the fact that he was of a higher rank. In the real historical context, he–a spaniard general –was of higher importance, whereas Cydaria, no matter her prior position in the Aztec empire, was now merely just another “Indian woman” to them.

It was humorous to play around with the idea that they would wind up happily in love. The Spanish conquerer, who murdered one of her own (an allusion, again, to his grotesqueness) and the native woman who was succumbing to his “charm” and true love. If the image isn’t quite all that explicit, then just imagine a story of unrequited love between a Nazi general and a Jewish woman. It’s possible, yes, but only a fool would wish them to find love in each other (considering he just killed one of her loved ones).

–Daniel Lizaola Lopez

For Honor, For Love, For Catholicism

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.

-Christopher Luong


The Unabated Conquest

John Dryden’s The Indian Emperor encompasses the political ideology of the Restoration through the foreign escapade of the play, coupled with the undying honor and influences of love, the drama itself becomes an exploration of the ideology of conquest during the time.

Much like the conquistadors, Britain sought political conquest of Europe through any means they could. In the play, the Spanish killed many natives of the land while under the guise of loyalty to their homeland and honor that could not be soiled no matter the circumstance, even love. Similar to Britain, the beheading of Charles I is exemplary of such brutality capable by the British government just as Montezuma was driven to suicide by Cortez. This political ideology of conquest masqueraded in honor and romanticized by drama is problematic; normalizing and simplifying the death of hundreds and thousands of natives.

Dryden’s decision to leave the romantic connection of Cortez and Cydaria ambiguous is purposeful in showing the overall triumph of honor over love. While it may be true she compelled Cortez to stave his attack for a day, nonetheless he still butchered the natives under the name of his king and followed through the bloodbath unabated. Cortez here works as a metaphor for conquest, being this masculine and primal blood-lust that cannot be tamed by romanticism and love despite Cydaria’s efforts.

Overall, the ambiguous ending shows not only the complexity of love but also the political ramifications that hover over such decisions.

-Daniel Corral

The Contrast between 16th and 17th Century English Theater

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.

Drury_Lane_Theatre.jpg-Conor Morgan

Love or Honor?

In John Dryden’s The Indian Emperour, The playwright struggles between a theme of love versus honor. It’s interesting how they’re not interrelated since a heroic drama would lead to the main character, male obviously, to desire and obtain power. Power itself is the motive for the main character however why is it that it cannot exist within this play as love? Underlining issues of unity between Catholic Conquistadors and Aztec natives display a battle that is not over; if it were then the love of Cydaria and Cortez would be established in the end of the play. Does the choice of Honor over Love have to do with a misogynistic perspective of the historical events taking place outside of the theatre?

The photograph inserted within the discussion question makes it apparent how women are being displayed as entertainment while the men watch. It’s rather my assumption that Dryden included Love elements in his play for the sake of appealing to a wide range of audiences when it should have begun and end with his true intentions for the play. Additionally, while the women are being displayed as entertainment in the photograph, there’s no sign of Aztec natives, why? Is it because they’re merely around to exploit in Dryden’s overview or for the sake of illuminating the main character into being honorable?


-Kristy Frausto


Indian Emperour

John Dryden’s play Indian Emperour is a play depicting the conquest of the Aztec Empire of Mexico by Spanish conquistadors. This play does not give us a gory battle scene but rather depicts a dramatic love battle between the characters. The particular love battle that sparks a deep interest is the love story between Cydaria an Aztec woman and Cortez a Spanish conquistador. Throughout the play it is clear they have interest in each other and even result in Cortez protecting Cydaria. However, Dryden does not allow them to have a matrimony. I argue this is due to the perspective many had Europeans of the time had about the Aztec people and any other foreign group. I believe Dryden was eager to show that there could be a relationship between both groups however knew there would still be a tremendous amount of tension. Dryden was producing what many English people wanted to see by not allowing Cydaria and Cortez to be married. However, also seemed fond of what the Spanish were doing of “mixing” with indigenous people. His interest in this is the reason for his subtle hint at a union while still not allowing it to happen.

This interpretation is also a PG version of the realities that occurred in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec people. Dryden is emphasizing the way Spanish conquistadors were simply viewing Aztec women as sexual objects in order to “mix” with them. Many indigenous Aztec women were raped by Spanish conquistadors. Though in the play there is no direct rape, there is a rape of the culture and Aztec empire. This play and the story between Cydaria and Cortez symbolizes the reality of what was occurring during the conquest.

-Alondra Morales Aguilar

Dryden’s Disconnect

I find an unwavering sense of importance to understand this play in its context, and to use this as a lens from which to view and inspect all other elements that stem there from. This play is back-dropped by the Restoration in England. A time of change and an unsettling uniting of the old and new, in which they do little more than clash, where traditions and old ideas clung on while society pushed forward. In the end of the play not bringing Cydaria and Cortez together left a desperate sort of unsettling, as something was so obviously unfinished, as if the author had just put down the pen and forgot the ending, and published the play anyway. However, in that space, a sort of suspended frustration and confusion existed. An uncomfortable longing and lost feeling so poignant that there  seems to be an intentional glimpse of what Dryden himself understood to not only be the plight of a complicated and rough relationship between the imperialists and natives, but also of the English ideas of the past and the newly forming society. That feeling of unresolved feelings, of two lovers not getting to be together so closely seems to echo and allude to an unresolved clash between old and new England. Dryden not only denies a happy and harmonious end to the relationship of imperialist and natives but, given what readers know is happening around him he, also seems to be speaking on the feelings of unresolved ideas and events which stem from a society that is changing, and the people who move forward and the ones stuck in the past. The Restoration was undeniably a time for the shed of old ideas, of the unification of countries, of the spread of literacy and the accepting of new ideas, and yet there is this shadow of negativity and foreboding laced into this play, that in the end the two lovers, and two ways of life can simply not merge and end with a suspended sense of wanting to be together, and yet no connection.


Cait Grabill