A Brief Introduction to “The Literature of Power”

The link below includes Thomas De Quincey’s “The Literature of Knowledge and the Literature of Power,” which was first published in the literary periodical North British Review (August , 1848; revised in 1858) as part of a larger essay on Alexander Pope (one of the authors covered in our course).  It is one of the earliest manifestos on the idea of a British literature survey.



Here’s a brief biography of De Quincey from the Victorian Web, a highly recommended academic resource:


FYI-this YouTube clip offers a concise informative survey of Restoration and 18th-century British Literature, the topic for the first half of this course.  It does a great job of providing some basic literary and historical context for the authors and works we will be studying in this course.  This quick survey will also give you a sense of the authors and works we will be skipping over.


Bacon and the Modern Day

Sir Francis Bacon has been one of the most influential figures in 17th British colonization of north America. Bacon was a royalist, philosopher, statesman, scientist and even published author. His work, From The New Atlantis, focused on the marriage of theology and science. These ideas of the marriage between science and religion was the basis for the creation of the Royal Society. Bacon writes about this connection in From The New Atlantis. Bacon shows the necessity for this connection to reach his version of a perfect society. He states that “God bless thee, my son, and god bless this relationship give thee leave to publish it for the good of other nations” (Bacon 1627). To Bacon, a utopian society is theological and scientific. Science is the explanation for God’s actions. 17th century British colonist culture revolved around their religious faith.when comparing these colonists to modern day american, it’s apparent that the colonist wanted religion to be mixed in with government. This mixing of religion and government is also found in england during the time when Bacon wrote. The idea that government needs to be married with religion and science is not found in modern day America. In fact the cultural importance of a person’s faith has faded over the last 400 years. This fade is due inpart to the lessened importance that religion plays into the average American’s cultural identity.

Bacon’s ideas on how science affects goverment rings true even in the modern today. His thoughts on how important scientific development is  on the fabric of society was a major influence for the creation of the royal society. Bacon wrote that science is the basis for state power and economic growth; also, that it benefits the social progression and technological development.
-Conor Morgan

King Charles II: The Merrie Monarch

I’ve posted a clip from Horrible Histories, the BBC program that produced a documentary on the English Civil War. This clip is a music video starring Charles II, whose rap explains why he is called the “Merrie Monarch.”  The themes raised in this video resonate strongly with the playful social atmosphere of the Restoration theater,  an important context for understanding Dryden’s play.  Check it out!

Cortez the Doubly Blessed (possibly)

At the very end of Dryden’s “The Indian Emperour,” Cortez thanks God for his pair of blessings, saying “while I loud thanks pay to the Powers above, thus doubly blessed with conquest, and with love” (68). This is the very last line of the play proper, before the epilogue, and with that in consideration, this line must be taken into special consideration.

Given the Restoration theater’s focus on “seeing and being seen,” as well as its status as a social event, it is entirely within the scope of reason to assert that for the most part, playgoers would not be incredibly focused on deep, contextual analysis of the play itself. However, the last lines could ingrain themselves in a viewer’s brain, and must function as a summary for the central themes of the play.

Thus, with the final line possibly serving as a summary of theme, one is drawn to the phrase “doubly blessed.” Dryden is showing that love and conquest are irreconcilable, as they are seen as two different gifts. Cortez believes he has both, and yet the question remains: why then does the play not end with him running off into the sunset with Cydaria? Why does the play end, instead, with a praising of God, and a promise of a grand funeral?

A possible answer to this question comes earlier, where Cydaria herself says “death only stands between me and happiness” (66). Here, perhaps, the implication is such that maybe Cydaria does not want to rush off with Cortez. She wants death instead. Thus comes the answer: Cydaria does not love Cortez, specifically, Cydaria does not love this conqueror.

Cortez is not “doubly blessed.” Cortez has won only conquest. Therefore, the final question remains: was Dryden’s intent here to show to vast difference between conquest and love, and by association honor and love? Then, by extension, the question becomes “is there really love anymore, in this age of conquest?” 

-Ross Koppel

Love and Honor

In the Restoration period, plays/ drama seem like a big thing as proven by the pictures we have looked at in lecture. The play was the place to be, because everyone was there, most importantly the Royal family. Which is part of the reason why they are so elaborate. The audience fills the theatres in order to be entertained. So it makes just enough sense as to why the performance should be just as interesting. With a story like “The Indian Emperour”, Dryden brings a twist that surely captures the audience, a love story entangled in a political war.

Drury Lane

The foreign imperialists and the Aztec natives, are portrayed very patriotic (yet confused) towards the decision of their kingdoms. After reading this play I asked myself “what message is the playwright trying to send to the audience during this time specific time period”? It almost seems as if he is trying to make fun of the two leaders because they are so easily swayed by love. Although it is a drama, the play can be used to convey how people of a certain monarchy behave. Even though the female characters are not portrayed as strongly as the males they have an active role in the plot. As I was reading the play I was almost frustrated because of the confusing love web that goes on with the multiple characters. In order to produce the different love angles, Dryden rushes the feelings of the characters to a very unrealistic point. For example, although Almeria is betrothed to Montezuma she falls in love with Cortez while attempting to kill him which leads Cydaria (who initially was betrothed to Orbellan) to accuse him of infidelity. It’s hard to keep up because the character’s feelings change every scene. Even after all that I would assume that at least Cydaria and Cortez end up together but Dryden doesn’t really focus on that instead he ends the play with Montezuma’s funeral. Which leads me to the question does honor trump love?

-Ravneet Dhillon

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

“Restoring” Faith in Nation and Empire

In John Dryden’s work of drama, The Indian Emperor, themes of colonialism and conquest are interspersed with ideas of romantic love, honor, and admiration. While drama has the fundamental ability to intelligently critique and subtly subvert the overarching themes and idiosyncrasies of nations and empires, Dryden’s work of imperialist drama works antithetical to that cause.

Most pertinently, the second lecture note outlines how Dryden’s work of historical fiction functions on an ideological level, creating a drama which was sensitive to “the fragile political mood of the early Restoration,” becoming a literary component that was “central to creating admiration for the restored Stuart monarchy” (8). Wrapped up in the “admiration” of the restored monarchy is an admiration, respect, and appreciation for the rapid advance of British empire. To affirm that Dryden is “conveying to his audience doubts or anxieties about the relationship between the foreign imperialists (Catholic Conquistadors) and the Aztec natives” would be to assert that British monarchy guilty of the same thing: forcing a foreign psychology on a native population which is resistant and repressed in the face of colonial conquest.

In a fundamental way, this would be antithetical to the goals of Restoration drama, as this level of critique would certainly undermine the goal of Restoration theater: to uphold and glisten the “virtuous” acclaim of the British monarchy.

While this question that is wrapped up in the ambiguity of the ending is an interesting one, I think that The Indian Emperor is a rather typical narrative of colonial grandeur. As we see in Act 2, Scene 2, Cortez is hell-bent on following through on his Prince’s orders: “I for my self to Conquer here I came,/ You might perhaps my actions justly blame:/ Now I am sent, and am not to dispute/ My princes order’s, but to execute” (18). With her romantic pining and adoration, she is able to convince him to halt the advance of empire: “Grac’d with no Triumph but a Lovers 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” (19). However, the romanticism of a pseudo-chivalric honor cannot change history, and the rape of indigenous culture goes on despite Cortez’ veil of empathy, shrouded by romantic, honor-bound discourse.

Although there are moments where Indian Emperor could be interpreted as decrying empire, the psychology of imperial conquest—by the British and the Spanish—cannot be tamed by love and romantic idealism. This is not a tale of hybridity, a post-colonial love story, but yet another relic of colonial thought, the hypocrisy of which is almost laughable.


Nathaniel Schwass

Beyond the Theatre

Indian Emperor was a play performed during the restoration period. There were great shifts of power and culture. The status quo is being challenged. One of the cultural and power shifts was King Charles II becoming a patron of theatre. The stage underwent great change during this time as well. It became more grand, giving plenty of room for exotic scenery. It is here that Dryden’s play will take place. His themes of love and honor are strong throughout, characteristics which fill the heroic drama requirements.

Dryden’s play follows a few complex relationships. There is an incredibly provocative affair between Cydaria, the emperor Montezuma’s daughter, and Cortez, the Spanish general. They are star crossed lovers, from two different worlds and cultures. Dryden purposefully does not resolve their relationship. He does this to show how messy it can be for love and honor to be intertwined. This is a very political statement. Can one truly give them self to another and still have unwavering honor?  Dryden is saying here that at some point a leader will have to chose to either love or be admirable. The two simply cannot mix. The whole story is a series of relationships which go escalate and decrease very rapidly. This is to demonstrate how messy love and honor are together. This is completely different than Lovelace who has very binary and strong views on love and honor. Dryden is represents his characters this way to reflect the culture he lives in. Charles II and England were going through a cultural shift, debauchery was not necessarily frowned upon. Perhaps Dryden was trying to voice his opinions to his leaders through his play. His message perhaps was work and play are both good but need to be separate. This could also explain why Dryden eventually turned to Catholicism. He was uncomfortable with the lack of structure the leadership displayed. 

  • Maya Gonzales

John Dryden’s “The Indian Emperour, or the Conquest of Mexico”

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).

The posts are due this Wednesday (Feb. 1st) by 1pm, but students have the option to edit and revise it until Friday 6pm.  Before you write the post, please review the directions on blog post writing and the blog post grading rubric in the syllabus, as well as the “How to Post” tab above.  Please categorize your post under “Restoration Theatre and Drama” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags.  And please sign your posts so that your TA, Hannah, and I know who wrote what.

Scene from John Dryden's 'the Indian Emperor or the Conquest of Mexico', 1732 Giclee Print

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.