Peek Beyond the Curtain

By: Leena Beddawi

The very existence of a stage comes with the grandeur of a curtain, which acts as the boundary between the audience and the actors, the real and the artificial, the known and the unknown. In John Dryden’s The Indian Emperour, the readers are shown both sides of the curtain which divided the foreign imperialists and Aztec natives, although it is worth noting that Dryden was by no means the right person for this very important job, so there was a very strong bias towards the imperialists.

Having his two characters Cydaria and Cortez fall in love only showed a romanticized version of the very extreme events going on in the world. That being said, there was always a means to his end, and that end was seemingly to propagate and influence history to show one side of the story while failing to actually depict the true horror and destruction going on behind the metaphorical curtain.


Sure, it may have been easier to minimize all the rape, destruction, dehumanization and genocide of the Mexican natives down to a simplistic love story that completely derails that which actually happened within the time period, but that is very sadly what history has very often become. Small romanticized stories about the establishment which fails to tell the stories which real people would face as a consequence of each and every historical event.

I believe it was very much Dryden’s plan to keep his ending ambiguous, just as most of the play was in terms of historical accuracy. It is quite normal to write a romanticized version of history, even if just to make it more appealing to the common person, but it is propaganda which shields future generations from being shown the truth. I’m excited to see what romance blossoms form Obama’s drone strikes or Trump’s everything.

It may have been easier for Dryden to keep the curtain pulled down, to show only the parts the imperialist regime would’ve wanted to show, but I don’t think he took into account the many other stories that were told about the time, which drowned out his falsehoods, and is the reason we are able to argue for his accuracy today. This may be the only thing giving me hope for the future anymore. As long as real stories are told, we can drown out the imperialist cover-up of history’s atrocities.


This is Conditional Acceptance: Sorry

The love between Cydaria and Cortez is easily one that is conditionally acceptable based on how real the audience perceives it to be. In other words, the more realistic it becomes the more unacceptable it becomes. The idea of them coming together and choosing love over strife is very poetic and sweet but only as an idea. An audience during the Restoration period would have been able to easily allow the relationship to go on because it allows the narrative of the love story to continue. A distracted audience would’ve accepted it for the general sake of the story as long as it was just vague enough. As concerned as they would have been with the politics associated with being seen at the theater it wouldn’t have mattered too much but as the play comes to an end, the audience’s focus on itself would also surely come to an end. This is something that is almost obvious to the characters too as Cydaria says on page 66,  “Can you be so hard-hearted, to destroy My ripening hopes, that are so near to joy? I just approach to all I would possess: Death only stands ‘twixt me and happiness.” Because the story is coming to an end and with it the legitimate possibilities for her love are too. There is only one real way for their story to end and that’s ambiguously. A clear resolution would never work and perhaps the “hard-hearted” could be used to refer to audiences at that time who would’ve scoffed at the actual idea of the love between Cydaria and Cortez if it had been legitimate realized. It would’ve gone from a cute concept to a horrible reality far too soon and that would not have been something they could stomach.


By Diana Lara



Love, Imperialism

In the context of The Restoration Period, the union between Cortez and Cydaria serves as a tool meant to captivate the audience through the allurement of love, lust, and power. Theatre in the Restoration Period maintained an aura devoted to supporting the image of the nobility and those in power. The theatre became an environment in which fostered spaces where individuals were exposed to the life and news of the nobility often times more so than they were with content from plays. Thus within the sphere of theatre during The Restoration Period, Dryden with his play, The Indian Emperour, or the Conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards, romanticizes imperialism through the lens of a requited love affair; the attraction/ connection he develops between Cortez and Cydaria.

Understanding that Dryden’s matching of Cortez and Cydaria together is an imperialist move in and of itself, with the sole purpose of selling the idea of one empire dominating the other, what does the positioning of his characters tell us about 17th Century misogyny and an imperialistic patriarchy? Why did Dryden choose Cydaria as a character connected to Cortez in this play?

In not uniting Cortez and Cydaria at the end of the play, Dryden is emphasizing the idea that nationalism, pride, and power outweigh any true love he may or may not feel for this woman- or any woman. At the end of the play, Cortez shouts, “I loud thanks pay to the powers above/Thus doubly Blest, with Conquest, and with Love.” Cortez here is speaking to God and King Charles II, giving them thanks for the power destined in him as conqueror. This type of ideology heavily rested in hierarchical perspectives is not only what keeps Cortez and Cydaria from uniting, but is what purposefully drives the play’s underlining theme of hierarchical, imperialistic modes of power.

An audience that can feed off gossip and popular news regarding the nobility, has a better chance of soaking in an imperialistic message when that message is masked in the cloak of love and power through characters such as Cydaria and Cortez. Cydaria and Cortez’s relationship was never meant to be portray a type of fairytale or a love sick tragedy like Romeo and Juliet. Rather, their relationship was Dryden’s way of softening imperialistic modes of domination and exploitation.

– Angelica Costilla-Mancha



Unrealistic Love

In his play, The Indian Emperor, John Dryden depicts the native Aztecs and the Imperial Spanish very differently from their historical counterparts. He romanticized the relationship between these very different nations, making it seem like they got along, and that the Spanish really didn’t mean any harm. When in reality they invaded and killed off thousands of innocent natives. And even when Dryden does show this in his play, in the scene where Pizarro and the Christian Priest torture Montezuma and his high priest in hopes that one of them will tell them where all their gold is stored. To me, this scene is written in a way that criminalizes Montezuma and the high priest and makes it seem like they are greedy and deserve their punishment. He uses the trope of the most “noble hero” by having Cortez the most gracious and sympathetic conquistador who is against violence and stop the torture before Montezuma can die. Not to mention the fact that he just so coincidentally falls for Montezuma’s daughter Cydaria is also extremely romanticized and not true. This relationship is obviously fictional but it’s incredibly bizarre and uncomfortable to one if they think about the fact that the one being oppressed is supposed to be in love with the oppressor. Even if in the end they don’t actually end up together, this type of play would probably be considered propaganda that would be shown to the English general public so that they think they knew what was happening across seas when in reality it was a much more dark and violent history. I think what this shows about what the English thought of the real relationship between the Spanish Crown and the Aztec natives is that they could see that there was obviously a distrust in each other. Therefore, it wouldn’t make sense to unite Cortez and Cydaria who actually represents the Other that is lesser and not worthy of being united in matrimony to a civilized European man. It was known that Dryden wrote his plays because he wanted to please his audience so perhaps, he romanticized the whole relationship between Spain and the Americas because that’s what people wanted to hear at the time, they didn’t care that it wasn’t true. So long as it made them believe that what was being done was right.

-Laura Mateo Gallegos

Re-Imagining Cortez’s Legacy

The ending of the play in my opinion states a lot about what Dryden was attempting to deliver with this piece. For example Cortez’s valor and willingness to provide to attempt to start a relationship with Cydaria even though due to the conquest she should have been seen as simply a Mexican and nothing else shows in what light Dryden saw the spaniards. He acknowledges the fact that the conquest was a prideful nationalistic accomplishment but demonstrates their weakness by his love for Cydaria showing how Cortez is willing to fall in love with an indigenous woman. In history books Cortez is seen as a strict conquistador not capable of falling in love let alone with a native woman yet Dryden is trying to challenge the previous notion by including a more affectionate side of Cortez.They also even included a character out of history Pizarro in attempt to even further take blame away from Cortez. I believe Dryden had this in mind when writing the play and writing it in english for that matter to justify the events and bring Cortez down from this pedestal that Spain had put him on while

In the first picture of the theatre, we can see how much admiration people had for the theatre during the time. The building is incredibly big having multiple floors for seating and booths around and some even on the stage. It’s clear from the pictures how English people thought of going to the theatre as an event in itself making sure that everything is beautifully done and executed. In the second picture however we can see that the admiration for theatre wasn’t only for show but also the content and love for the arts. They were so into theatre they were willing to put on private performances in their home with friends and family.


-Noel Nevarez

Drama in the Restoration

John Dryden changed the world with his dramas. As the puritans lost their influence, theater would rise once again with the powerful works of Dryden and his playwright counterparts. Charles the II was more than enthusiastic to see the influence of the stage, and his encouragement was more than enough to spur a movement that encompassed tremendous social, political, and religious inter-workings. The Indian Emperour, or the Conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards, is a prime example of the enormity  and impact that the theater played at the time, in an English empire that faced a plethora of widespread thoughts, opinions, and beliefs. The Indian Emperour took the stage by storm, and Dryden’s influence was thus effectively conveyed.

After reading The Indian Emperour, surely one could only wish to witness the scramble of love and honor in an actual grandeur theater of the past. Drama as it always has, is capable of captivating the audience, invoking emotion and thus possessing a power not matched by other forms of literature. However the drama during the restoration period was especially significant and influential. Behind the immediate display of glamour, the theater was a way to strengthen political ideologies and Dryden was able to reinforce the support for the monarchy. Dryden depicts the Aztec leader Montezuma in far-stretched manner to resemble a positive figure that is in peril due to the largely ill-willed Spanish conquistadors. He approaches the Catholic regime, and ultimately the Spanish nation, in the Montezuma torture scene, where the Aztec leader ultimately becomes a martyr. The oppressive tendencies of Catholicism are displayed on full blast with the priest in the torture scene, “Chr, Vr. Mark how this impious Heathen juftifies his own falfe gods, and our true God denies how wickedly he has refus’d his wealth. And hid his Gold, from Chriftian hands, by ftealth: Down with him, kill him, merit Heaven thereby. (59)” Dryden does however, leave room on a positive portrayal of the Catholic church through the heroic actions of Cortes. Where the greed-possessed Pizarro is unable to act ethically, Cortes proceeds as a heroic figure, who constantly has his honor questioned, but ultimately prevails. Cortes represents the ultimately honorable fate that avoids the love of Cyderia.

The influence of female presence is perhaps more powerful than perceived during the time of restoration. The Indian Emperor helps represent the chaotic scene of love that honor is in direct conflict with. Women have become an extremely influential force, and carry similar qualities as literature of power themselves. The anxieties of the England with Spain are portrayed through an insulting claim that the Spanish are less honorable through their choices of love and their apparent cruelty, as The Indian Emperor glorifies England through the actions of Cortes. Dryden is able to embody the celebratory feelings of newly granted freedom in his plays during the restoration, and expresses his uncertainty in the English empire, and also addresses the issue of religious fanaticism. He uses alternating paradoxes of love and pride to excite and demonstrate to his audience the complexities of the monarchy. The theater grew to become a staggering scene not just for the renovation of old plays, but as a new gathering for the social stratification of England to coincide and discuss. The impact of drama in the restoration was immense, and Dryden is largely responsible.

-Thomas Pham

In John Dryden’s Indian Emperor there is an evident constant battle between love and honor. The Conquistadors and the Aztecs’ battle is occurring during this time however the story that is heavily emphasized in this play is the love between Cydaria and Cortez. This love is seen as “forbidden” because given the circumstances they should be enemies. I believe this is used to mask the actual horror that actually occurred at the time.

The fact that the contrast between love heroism was incorporated into the play in order to cater to the audience who had previously enjoyed plays by Shakespeare, after all Shakespeare’s plays relied heavily on both love and tragedy. Both characters show strong commitment to their lands as Cortez fights for what he considers to be victory and Cydaria fights to keep her farther alive even if that means Cortez must disobey orders. It was important that during time period the theatre remain a place for many to enjoy, perhaps that is why for many the ending of the play remains unclear and one can believe that Cortez and Cydaria lived a happily ever after but that is not guaranteed. The exact future of Cortez and Cydaria  is not stated  clearly in the end of the play. This is great for many people because its appeals to those who like happy endings and those who prefer mysterious/tragic ones .One can say that not only did Cortez conquest the Spaniards he also conquests Cydaria’s heart. Although now it is more acceptable for people of different background or sex to marry there are still religions that will not allow people to marry until both people are converted to that religion. I believe that people today  are more tolerant than they were before and are happy  to see others happy no matter what their orientation or ethnicity is. Although there is still a huge amount of progress we have come a long way.

In the photos provided below we are able to see what the performances looked like, it is noticeable that in one of the photographs there are hundreds of people in the theatre divide by economic status and power. While discussing this photo in class many were drawn to the center of the stage which is of course the focal point. In the second photograph the play appears to be performed in a more private setting such as a house, there are children watching the play too which further emphasizes the fact that love was more present in this tale of Cortez than the one told to many in history books. This factor perhaps made the play more enjoyable for a younger audience.

– Luz Zepeda


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

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