Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1056
Francisco Pizarro (pee-ZAH -roh), a sixty-three-year-old soldier of fortune who sets out to conquer Peru, the land of gold. He starts out with a neat uniform and a trimmed beard, but his appearance deteriorates as the play progresses. A bastard, born of peasant stock, he joined the...
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Francisco Pizarro (pee-ZAH-roh), a sixty-three-year-old soldier of fortune who sets out to conquer Peru, the land of gold. He starts out with a neat uniform and a trimmed beard, but his appearance deteriorates as the play progresses. A bastard, born of peasant stock, he joined the army to seek glory and escape poverty, but he was never rewarded for his valor. At one time, he would have been satisfied with a title and a pension, but now he wants immortal fame. A disillusioned man, he no longer believes in the honor of war, loyalty to country, or the power of riches. Haunted by the ravages of time and faced with the inevitability of his death, he is looking for a god to replace his youthful hope and his lost faith. He forms a bond with Atahuallpa, the Inca ruler, who promises to rise from the dead especially for Pizarro. When the Indian fails him, the Spaniard is left in despair.
Atahuallpa (ah-tah-HWAHL-pah), the sovereign Inca of Peru, son of the Sun God, a tall, thirty-three-year-old Indian dressed in ceremonial garb, complete with a gold crown and a jeweled mask. A bastard who killed his brother to gain the Inca throne, he rules with godlike power. Believing that Pizarro is a white god come to bless him, he eagerly greets the Spaniards, who eventually capture him. With his ransom set at a room full of gold, he is held prisoner by Pizarro and forms a fraternal relationship with the old man, teaching him how to dance and celebrate life. Compassionately aware that Pizarro has lost faith in God and confident in his own immortality, Atahuallpa promises to rise from the dead after the Spaniards strangle him.
Old Martin, a grizzled old man in his mid-fifties, dressed in the traditional black costume of a mid-sixteenth century Spanish hidalgo. He is a lifetime soldier who has earned a fortune fighting and plundering for his country. As a weary and disillusioned warrior, he sadly recollects the conquest of Peru and his own adulation for Pizarro. As narrator, he describes the scenes, explains the actions of the men involved, and tries to come to terms with himself as a young boy. After narrating the story of the conquest, he is left with a sense of despair at the waste and ruin of an entire nation.
Young Martin, Pizarro’s fifteen-year-old page, who can read, write, and later translate. As a naïve young man full of dreams of glory, honor, and chivalry, he worships Pizarro. After the slaughter of the Incas, he vomits as he begins to see that fighting is not as chivalrous as he thought. In the end, he cries and walks away defiantly when Pizarro is ready to break his promise to set Atahuallpa free unharmed. To Pizarro, Young Martin represents the hope that the old soldier has lost and can never regain.
Hernando de Soto
Hernando de Soto, Pizarro’s second in command, a dependable soldier in his forties who has freely chosen to fight for God and king, even if it means killing for the sake of Christ. Born into wealth and status, he is a man of honor, loyalty, and faith. As a friend and confidant to Pizarro, he urges his commander to keep his promise to set the Inca free, for he truly understands Pizarro’s feelings toward Atahuallpa.
Miguel Estete (mee-GEHL ehs-TEH-teh), the royal veedor or overseer, arrayed in his official black uniform. Haughty and pretentious, he takes great pride in flaunting his status as the official representative of the crown in order to challenge Pizarro’s power. Behind his façade as an official bureaucrat, he hides his own personal greed and ambition. Sly and politic in his actions, he tries to get de Candia, the Venetian, to kill the Inca so that the crown can save face, and he plays on Pizarro’s desire to be an absolute ruler by telling him to kill Atahuallpa out of sheer willfulness.
Pedro de Candia
Pedro de Candia (KAHN-dee-ah), a Venetian captain and commander of the artillery. He wears a pearl in one ear and swaggers when he walks. As an outsider who is blunt in admitting his selfish motives, he mocks the Spanish officials and priests who try to hide their rapaciousness behind official language and missionary zeal. Volatile and quick to act, he treats the Indians roughly and is ready to kill Atahuallpa himself rather than risk the safety of the army.
Fray Vincente de Valverde
Fray Vincente de Valverde (vee-SEHN-teh deh vahl-VEHR-deh), the chaplain of the expedition, a Dominican priest of peasant heritage. He is a self-righteous zealot who believes naïvely that he can convert the Indians by a mere declaration of his creed. Not only does he condone and forgive murder and violence in the name of Christ, but he also treats the Indians as less than human. In his typical fashion, he advises Pizarro to break his promise and kill Atahuallpa because promises given to pagans are not binding.
Fray Marcos de Nizza
Fray Marcos de Nizza (NEE-sah), a Franciscan friar who is more severe and intelligent than Valverde. For him, Christianity is a matter of free choice, and he condemns the socialist society of the Incas as evil because it prevents individual enterprise, personal ambition, and free choice.
Felipillo (feh-lee-PEE-yoh), a thin Ecuadoran with gold ornaments who acts as a translator for Pizarro. Converted to Christianity in name only, he is a treacherous Indian driven by lecherous desires for Peruvian women. He is replaced by Young Martin, who catches him deliberately mistranslating Atahuallpa.
Rodas (RROH-dahs), a peasant tailor who disparages Pizarro’s recruiting efforts in Spain, renounces his share of the gold because he is afraid to follow Pizarro into Inca territory, and deliberately starts a fight after the gold is shared.
Vasca (VAHS-kah), a rugged peasant. His lust for gold, accompanied by his weariness with his impoverished state, not only impels him to venture into Peru but also spurs him to risk his life. He often motivates others to follow Pizarro.
Domingo (doh-MEEN-goh), a peasant cooper recruited to serve in Pizarro’s army. Both doubtful and fearful, he is weak and indecisive both about joining Pizarro and about following him into risky situations.