The Royal Hunt of the Sun

by Peter Shaffer

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What are the elements in The Royal Hunt of the Sun that makes it more than a simple tale of history?

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Although of course the story of this compelling play is based around a real historical event, what Shaffer does in this play is to move beyond a purely historical re-enactment in order to discuss the theme of the need for faith in some sort of divinity and what happens when that faith is crushed. This is why the relationship between Pizarro and Atahuallpa is explored, and in particular the all-consuming belief of Atahuallpa that he is divine and therefore cannot be killed. At one point in the drama, Atahuallpa urges Pizarro to "believe" in him as a divinity, and as the play develops it is clear that Pizarro places significant faith in Atahuallpa. His reaction when Atahuallpa finally dies, which proves he was not divine, strongly suggests that this play is far more about faith and trying to find meaning in the world than it is actually about history. After initially calling the dead Atahuallpa a "cheat" because he was not immortal, Pizarro delivers a very moving monologue about what this loss of faith means to him:

God's just a name on your nail; and naming begins cries and cruelties. But to live without hope of after, and make whatever God there is, oh, that's some immortal business surely!

Pizarro states on the one hand that clearly any concept of "God" is an excuse for "cries and cruelties." However, at the same time, he recognises that it is terrible to life "without hope of after" or any belief in some kind of afterlife, is a chilling prospect. This is why Pizarro says he dies between "blind eyes and a blind sky." Pizarro realises at this moment in the play that he craved belief in a divinity, and now that this belief has been extinguished, he is left with nothing. Clearly therefore this play is so much more than just a historical account of colonialism.

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