Royal Hunt of the Sun

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A: Peter Shaffer Pf: 1964, Chichester Pb: 1964 G: Hist. drama in 2 acts S: Spain and Peru, 1529–33 C: 21m, 2fThe events of the play are narrated by Martin Ruiz, formerly the page of Francisco Pizarro. Pizarro, a veteran Spanish soldier in his fifties, intent on the conquest of Peru, recruits Spanish soldiers with promises of the vast golden treasures possessed by the Incas, although the Church claims that their mission is to bring Christianity to the ‘savages’. After enduring harsh jungle conditions and climbing snow-peaked mountains, his tiny force of less than 200 men eventually enter Cajamarca, the city where the Inca, the Emperor Atahuallpa, is residing. Although Pizarro is vastly outnumbered by Inca forces, Atahuallpa is convinced that Pizarro's courage must mean that he is the white god of Inca legends. The unarmed Inca troops are slaughtered in a bloodbath, and Atahuallpa allows himself to be captured. The two men develop an affinity, and Pizarro begins to believe in Atahuallpa's divinity: ‘I've gone god-hunting and caught one.’ Pizarro promises to free Atahuallpa if the Incas fill a huge room with gold, booty for the Spaniards to take home. The room is duly filled, but Pizarro is reluctant to free Atahuallpa, because the Emperor has sworn reprisals on all the Spanish except Pizarro. Pizarro believes his dilemma solved when Atahuallpa assures Pizarro that if he dies, his relation, the Sun, will resurrect him the next day, thus proving his divinity. Atahuallpa is garrotted, and Pizarro waits tensely for the sunrise. When Atahuallpa remains dead, Pizarro feels cheated and sinks into sullen disillusionment.

A: Peter Shaffer Pf: 1964, Chichester Pb: 1964 G: Hist. drama in 2 acts S: Spain and Peru, 1529–33 C: 21m, 2f

This spectacular piece, with its exciting action and epic sweep, addresses several issues: on a political level, there is the clash between the brutality of the conquistadors and the gentle trust of the Incas; on a spiritual level, there is the conflict between the weary orthodoxy of European religion and the nature-based spirituality of the New World. In the event, neither faith offers Pizarro an answer, and he recognizes that humankind is bound ‘to live without hope of after’.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

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