Introduction


spacer1. The present work represents an interesting intersection of two Jesuit enthusiasms, the use of drama for pedagogical purposes in its schools and seminaries, and intense awareness of foreign cultures resulting from overseas missionary activities. The history play Montezuma sive Mexici Imperii Occassus, is preserved among the repertoire of plays from the Jesuit College of St. Omers (Stonyhurst ms. B.VI.10 (3). NOTE 1 There is no record of its authorship or date of performance in the College archives, but there are several reasons for wondering whether it might be the work of the most prominent St. Omers playwright, Joseph Simons S. J.. In the first place, Montezuma is an extremely well-crafted and effective play, one of the best in the St. Omers repertoire. Also, it would appear that Simons wrote a play with a similarly exotic location, since according to the St. Omers Registrum (fol. 17), a play Paulus Iaponensis was produced in June 1624, at a time when Simons was Professor of Humanities and, in accordance with its statutes, was responsible for play-production within the College. This lost work presumably dramatized the story of the Japanese protomartyr St. Paul Moki [d. 1597]. Third, the ms. containing this play is copied in the same hand as that of Sanctus Pelagius Martyr (1623), likely by Simons since it too was written during the period of his Professorship, and this may hint that it too was composed in the same time-frame. Since Montezuma is devoid of any religious content, the reader only familiar with Simons from having read the lengthy discussion of him in William H. McCabe S. J.’s An Introduction to the Jesuit Theater, in which he is discussed as a quintessentially Catholic playwright, might think a proposal that this play was Simons’ work untenable. But a far more balanced and penetrating appraisal of James A. Parente, Jr. NOTE 2 stresses that the real focus Simons’ interest was courtly intrigue. In telling the story of Cortez’ conquest of Mexico, the author of this play is concerned with the effect of the Spanish invasion on Montezuma, his royal family, and the courtiers that surround them. Quicuxtemocus is a fit companion to the ambitious schemers who populate Simons’ plays, and the virtuous Mexus can just as well be compared with the virtuous victims Simons’ revengers and men-on-the-make tend to accumulate. The author of Montezuma is so concerned with this subject that he was willing to exclude from his play any religious ramifications, which, in this case, would have dealt with the introduction of Christianity into a kingdom of benighted paganism, thereby extolling the missionary enterprise. In just the same way, Simons was preeminently a playwright who dealt with court intrigue, to the point that in some plays (such as Theoctistus and Zeno) he was equally able to ignore the religious possibilities of the historical subjects he chose to dramatize. The handling of the historical matter in Montezuma is therefore by no means untypical of Simons. A final similarity of Montezuma to a Simons play is that the present one, uniquely in the extant St. Omers repertoire, is written in five Acts rather than the standard three. The only other exception to the norm was the original version of Simon’s Zeno, composed in four (a structure imitated by the anonymous 1651 Fortunae Ludibrium sive Bellisarius) Furthermore, there is a gap in the St. Omers records for the years 1627 - 1628, so that we cannot compile a definitive list of plays written by Simons during his tenure of office, and Montezuma could well have been produced turing that time. Considerations such as these may be less than completely determinative. Nevertheless, tentative attribution to Simons seems justifiable.
spacer2. The present play tells the story of intrigue and skullduggery within the Aztec palace. In essence, the fall of the Mexican empire is blamed on Montezuma’s gullibility in being persuaded by the misrepresentations of his queen, who wishes to see her son Axacus placed on the throne, to abandon confidence in Mexus, his son by a previous marriage, and remove him as head of his army. Mexus is represented as a virtuous paladin, and we are given to understand that, when he is deposed from his command, Mexico’s ability to defend itself against the Spanish invaders is destroyed. But his stepmother herself is the puppet of the scheming of Quicuxtemocus, whose aim is to remove Axacus and assume the throne himself.
spacer3. This tale has the double advantage of producing a play rich with courtly intrigue, ever popular with contemporary English audiences, and of rendering the stupendous historical fact of the Spanish conquest comprehensible by explaining it in the simple and familiar terms of a domestic power-struggle. The play is notable for its strong and effective characterizations: Montezuma’s credulity and indecision are sketched out well; Cortez’ aggressive dynamism, not without an admixture of hypocrisy, comes across clearly; and, above all, Quicuxtemocus is a highly satisfactory stage-villain of the Richard III variety, unprincipled, resourceful, and persuasive. The playwright was only hamstrung by the Jesuit rule against introducing female parts, so he perforce had to reset content with presenting the queen as a shadowy offstage figure: we are not even told her name.
spacer4. This story, and such key characters as Mexus, Axacus, and Montezuma’s nameless consort, appears to have been invented by the playwright himself. But of course he availed himself of historical sources, the principal one of which appears to have been the Jesuit José de Acosta’s 1590 Historia natural y moral de las Indias. This comes as no surprise, since Acosta’s work was translated into English by Edward Grimston (London, 1604). NOTE 3 In it we find this crucial passage, which provides the germ for the play’s plot (p. 521):

The Mexicanes, seeing their Lord Monteçuma, staied with great silence. Then Monteçuma caused the Lord to advise them to pacifie themselves, and not to warre against the Spaniards, seeing that (hee being a prisoner) it could little profite him. The which being vnderstood by a yong man called Quicuxtemoc, whom they now resolved to make their king, spake with a loud voice to Monteçuma, willing him to retyre like a villaine, taht seeing he had bin such a coward as to suffer himselfe to be taken, they were no more bound to obey him, but rather should punish him as he deserued, calling him woman for the more reproach, and then hee beganne to draw his bowe and shoote at him, and the people beganne to cast stones at him, and to continue their combate.

Other elements of the play were evidently excavated from Acosta: these include his description of the interview between Montezuma and Cortez dramatized in III.i (p. 519), the story of the city-state of Tlaxcala mentioned at 114ff. and elsewhere (p. 501, etc.), and his chapter on the strange portents which troubled the Aztecs prior to the fall of their empire (pp. 506ff.), as described by Montezuma in the course of his speech at 959ff. On the hand, it cannot be maintained that Acosta was the only source laid under contribution by our playwright, since the play contains some historical information not found in that writer. Most notably, perhaps, one of its minor characters is an officer of Cortez not mentioned by Acosta, Diego de Ordás (1157ff.). His presence on the expedition is recorded by other historians, such as Bernal Díaz de Castillo’s 1568 Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España, p. 398 (which can be read here). On the other hand, if two other minor Spanish characters are identifiable at all, their presence in this play is quite unhistorical: at one point there appears a character identified only as PIZ. in the ms. If he is supposed to be Francisco Pizarro, the future conqueror of the Inca empire, our playwright is guilty of a historical error, for Pizarro never served under Cortez. Likewise at 1466 a single half-line is spoken by somebody identified as VASQ. If he is supposed to be Diego Velázquez de Cuellar, this too is wrong: that governor of Cuba originally supported Cortez’ project, but came to oppose it and even went so far as to try to have Cortez arrested.
spacer5. I should like to thank Dr. Martin Wiggins of The Shakespeare Institute for drawing this play to my attention, supplying me with a photocopy of the manuscript.

 

Notes

spacerNOTE 1 The existence of this play is recorded by Alfred Harbage, “A Census of Anglo-Latin Plays,” PMLA 53:2 (1938) 628, William McCabe S. J., An Introduction to the English Jesuit Theatre (St. Louis, 1983) p. 101 and Alfred Harbage, S. Schoenbaum, and Sylvia Stoler Wagonheim, Annals of English Drama 975 - 17oo (third edition, London, 1989) 209.

spacerNOTE McCabe devotes Section III of his book to Simons. Compare the treatment by James A. Parente, Jr., “Tyranny and Revolution on the Baroque Stage: The Dramas of Joseph Simons,” Humanistica Lovaniensia 32 (1983) 309 - 324.

spacerNOTE 3 Grimston’s translation was published at London in 1880 by the Hakluyt Society, with notes and introduction by Clemens R. Markham; it may be read in electronic form here. Page references in the body of this Introduction are those of the 1880 edition.