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Honour: respect; loyalty; integrity; allegiance to moral principles.
Honour is a key theme in the Royal Hunt of the Sun by Peter Schaffer. Almost all characters within the play have diverse perceptions of honour and what it actually means. These perceptions are influenced by the characters upbringing, lifestyle and religious beliefs.
Each Character regards honour as a different idea due to their experiences and beliefs. For example, Valverde and De Nizza – both Christian priests – only show respect and loyalty to others who practise their religion.
Many conceptions of honour contradict one another within the play, but which character has the best ideas about honour? Who is the most honourable character in the play?
The main character in the Royal Hunt for the Sun is Pizarro, a complex-minded man in middle-age. Pizarro holds many moral beliefs but does not truly follow a religion. As well as this, travelling so often, he does not feel Spain is his home country, and is therefore not as loyal to the King as most others are: “What has the King ever done for me?” Pizarro enquires, and to an extent he has a very good point. Because Pizarro holds no commitments to a certain religion or country, he seems to have the most open mind towards new concepts and suggestions within the Spanish group.
At the beginning of the play, Pizarro shows his sole purpose of the expedition is to create a name for himself so he will be remembered for a long time in Spain. He is not blinded by greed and gold like the others on the expedition, as he says, “at my age, gold turns to metal.” Pizarro is wise and experienced and is not swayed in what he does by materialistic objects – he seems to have learned from previous expeditions where he has not come back with any gold. By trying to make a name for himself, Pizarro is trying to honour his name, and is not being swayed by gold, which previously he would have liked.
“I’ve served under many men: But this is the first that makes me afraid!” De Soto says about Pizarro. This shows Pizarro is well respected and is valued as the leader of the expedition, even though other people such as “the church” or “the crown” often seem to want a say in the proceedings. Pizarro is considered sometimes to make controversial decisions, but always tries to do the best for his army. This is evident in the long discussion about whether to kill Atahuallpa or not. Pizarro states, “If I let the Inca go, Father, you’ll never get back to Spain.” This shows that although Pizarro wants to keep his word of freeing Atahuallpa, he tries to think of the best solution so that his army do not get hurt or killed.
During the heated discussion to decide if Atahuallpa should be killed, Pizarro is the only one who thinks he should keep to his promise and let Atahuallpa free. This shows morality on two scales. Firstly, Pizarro is able to keep a promise even if others do not agree with him, and secondly, he does not think anyone as innocent as Atahuallpa should be murdered.
However, in the end, Atahuallpa was murdered, showing that Pizarro was not willing to take drastic action to help save Atahuallpa from death. When this happened, he had broken his promise to Atahuallpa, and their relationship ends, symbolised by the “cutting of the rope” which had bound them together in Act 2 Scene 11.
Another important character within the play is Estete, the royal overseer. Estete’s first appearance within the play tells us that he is a loyal man when he tells Pizarro: “Remember your duty to God, sir, and to the throne…” When asked what Estete will get out of the expedition, he replies “If you serve a King, you must kill personal ambition.”
Later on in the play, the reader can see that Estete starts to exploit his status as royal overseer. “May the crown be allowed a word?” He asked in a sarcastic tone as if he is the most important man on the trip because he has the backing of the King. In theory, his guess is as good as any as to what the King would actually be feeling and what he would want to be done. However, in trying to guess what the King would do, he is not respecting Pizarro – the leader of the expedition. From the very beginning he questions Pizarro’s authority and says “on this expedition, my name is the law.”
It becomes evident that Estete only holds loyalty to his country, as he becomes a key member in the mutiny towards the end of the play, shouting “There’s nothing you can do Pizarro, the whole camp’s against you!”
Two more key figures within the Spanish group who continually strive for more power are the Christian priests: Valverde and De Nizza. Very much like Estete, their loyalty is strictly based on a single thing; God and Christian beliefs.
However, unlike Estete, Valverde and De Nizza often contradict what is said in the bible, and believe Christians are the only human beings who should be respected. This is evident when Valverde tells Pizarro, “My son, listen to me. No promise to a pagan need bind a Christian.
Not only this, but Valverde was on the jury who tried Atahuallpa. Atahuallpa did not have a fair trial, and he was quickly found guilty by Valverde and many others, without getting a genuine hearing. He was sentenced to death by burning, one of the cruellest ways to by killed. Valverde makes one final attempt to convert Atahuallpa into a Christian, saying “Let him repent his idolatry and be baptized a Christian.” In my opinion, Atahuallpa had no choice in the matter, and Valverde only said it so this whole trip had not been a complete failure in regards to converting the indigenous people. Therefore, he was only thinking of himself and his position.
In my opinion, Atahuallpa is not such an honourable character. This is shown on his first encounter with the Spaniards, when he likes the bible and tries to eat it. He shows no respect for what other people believe to be the words of God. In Atahuallpa’s world, he is worshiped as a God, so he truly believes he is. However, it is fair to say he was playing on that role, and it was proved he wasn’t a God when he did not “swallow death and spit it out” as he said he would.
However, when Atahuallpa is captured by the Spaniards, he does keep his promise and seems very straightforward; he doesn’t lie or try any tricks to escape etc. However, Atahuallpa has committed one of the greatest crimes of all; he murdered his brother to take control of the whole kingdom. Nobody who has murdered somebody can be deemed as loyal.
In my opinion, Young Martin has the best idea of honour. Although he is just a young boy in the play, and he does not have much in the way of possessions or status, he knows his role and those around him.
It is clear from the start that Young Martin is full of respect and admiration for Pizarro. “I’d be honoured my Lord, oh please my Lord!” Martin says when Pizarro says he will have to be his reader and writer aswell as page. Martin’s loyalty to Pizarro is clear right the way through the play until the very end, as Martin is the only one of the Spaniards to remain with Pizarro to see if Atahuallpa would rise from the dead.
Not only this, but Young Martin – although the youngest – was very responsible on the trip, taking over as translator when he realised Felipillo was not doing the job correctly. He helps his team of Spaniards throughout their ordeal, without receiving much help from anyone else.
It is clear that in the play “The Royal Hunt for the Sun” there are differences in what characters perceive to be as honourable, and many hold different loyalties to the church, the King or Pizarro. Peter Schaffer manages to convey all sorts of strands of honour within each character, without giving single character “full honourability”.
In my opinion this is what makes the play so successful, as characters have contrasting views on what honour really is.