Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The play can be read in several ways, and the possible interpretations are not necessarily exclusive. It represents a quest on at least three levels: the quest for gold by a greedy colonial power, Pizarro’s personal quest for fame and reputation, and the quest for faith and meaning in an apparently random and haphazard world. Because of these layers of symbolic meaning, the play demands to be considered as an allegory. It is more than simply a historical drama.

Like Peter Shaffer’s play Equus (pr., pb. 1973), The Royal Hunt of the Sun reveals the playwright’s fascination with the ancient world and its religions. This fascination, which is more clearly articulated in Equus by Martin Dysart, is dramatized in The Royal Hunt of the Sun and commented upon by Martin Ruiz, who mediates the action for the audience much as Dysart does in Equus. The suggestion in both instances is that modern humankind has lost something of value as a consequence of distancing itself from the primitive. Pizarro wants desperately to believe in Atahuallpa. The Inca believes in himself and his power, but his power has never been tested by cynical nonbelievers such as the Spaniards. Atahuallpa is a perfect icon of honesty and trust, while the Spaniards are dishonest and deceptive. In the end Pizarro cannot deny his own nature and conditioning, but he is still seeking some means of transcendence.

Martin Ruiz and Pizarro are both middle-aged men undergoing a crisis of faith. They are modern men who sense that organized religion cannot provide for their spiritual needs and yearn for a release through primitive, ritualistic worship. Clearly, Atahuallpa is a noble figure, godlike in his serenity in the face of danger and treachery that he cannot quite comprehend. Marcos de Nizza, the...

(The entire section is 745 words.)