And despite the affection that some developed for the Inca Emperor, his presence was a constant threat to the greatly outnumbered Spaniards, who knew that a single command from the Sapa Inca (1) could raise a huge force against them.
So when word came that one of Atahuallpa’s generals approached Cajamarca with an army, intending to fight for the Emperor’s freedom, Pizarro assembled a tribunal and charged Atahuallpa with various crimes – including fomenting revolt against the Spanish authorities, practicing idolatry and adultery, and committing fratricide – then delivered a guilty verdict and condemned the ruler to death by immolation.
The imprisoned Atahuallpa, on learning how greatly the Spaniards esteemed shiny metals, offered a huge ransom to his captors: treasure enough to fill a vast room once with gold and twice over with silver.
This astonishing price was duly paid, but it purchased neither clemency for the subjugated Incas nor freedom for Atahuallpa.
Rather, it’s a reimagining of history, which maneuvers two powerful figures into a clash of opposing ideals.
The year was 1531, when the conquistador Francisco Pizarro – a bastard in every sense of the word, considered by some to rank among the most evil men in human history – landed with a force in Perú, seeking riches and reputation.Run time: Originally 121 minutes, but only 96 minutes in most available releases.Quotes: Quotations from the film are listed here; the play script is also widely available. Starring: Robert Shaw as Francisco Pizarro, Christopher Plummer as Atahuallpa.Because the Inca faith held that burning the body would destroy any chance for an afterlife, Atahuallpa reeled from this sentence and agreed to Christian conversion in exchange for a more merciful execution.He was baptized, given a Christian name (recorded alternately as “Juan” for John the Baptist or “Francisco” after Pizarro), and then garrotted the same night, 26 July 1533 (though some sources – as well as this play and film – use an erroneous alternative date of 29 August).The Spanish army answered with an ambush, slaughtering the unarmed Incas and capturing their ruler.John Everett Millais, Pizarro Seizing the Inca of Peru, 1846.Shaffer crafted this work as an experience of “total theatre,” combining mask work, pantomime, dance, song, costume, setting, and verse to draw the viewer into a highly symbolic clash between worlds. Old Martin is a miserable, jaded landowner who narrates and comments upon the story, having made his fortune – and lost the brightest hopes of his heart – in Perú.Although the play’s most stylized scenes (like the infamous Mime of the Great Ascent, in which the actors “climb the Andes” on stage) are replaced on film with realistic settings (with many scenes filmed on location in Spain and Perú), the movie is no more an action-packed adventure than the stage version. Once, the world could have had me for a petty farm, two rocky fields, and a Señor to my name. And his innocent, unspoilt self of forty years earlier, Young Martin– –is an active participant in the events we’re about to see.For appropriate libations, either buy a Spanish wine of origin Ribera del Guadiana (i.e., from the Extremadura region, which includes Pizarro’s birthplace of Trujillo) or make your own chicha de jora, a fermented maize drink that receives brief mention in the play.All of Sir Peter Shaffer’s theatrical works grapple with profound questions through the microcosm of human conflict, but none with more terrible allure than The Royal Hunt of the Sun.