How Does Shaffer Create and Use Dramatic Tension in “the Royal Hunt of the Sun” and to What Effect?

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How does Shaffer create and use dramatic tension in “The Royal Hunt of the Sun” and to what effect?

The Royal Hunt of the Sun is a gripping play about the journey of the Spanish army sent to conquer Peru, and the unlikely friendships that are formed. Shaffer creates dramatic tension with a number of techniques such as the use of Martin to narrate the story to the audience, a unique and powerful use of sounds, and the use of symbolic props and duologue scenes that create dramatic irony. He also employs a number of methods to show the contrasts and similarities of religion, culture and philosophy between the Inca and Spanish armies.

Shaffer initially uses Martin’s narration to foreshadow the ensuing disastrous events. Old Martin generates the audience’s attention at the very start of the play by saying “This story is about ruin.” This creates dramatic irony and suggests a treacherous and threatening atmosphere. In “The Mime of the Great Ascent” Old Martin speaks about the tribulation the army faced “…we crept forward like blind men, the sweat freezing on our faces” in order to gain the sympathy of the audience. Old Martin’s emotions are showed in different ways throughout the play, “Look at the warrior where he struts… salvation in his new spurs. One of the knights at last.” Here Shaffer uses Old Martin’s cynicism and bitterness to exaggerate the loss of Young Martin’s innocence and childhood and gain the empathy of the audience. As the story unfolds, the reason for Old Martin’s pessimism becomes clear to the audience, “I went out into the night… and dropped my first tears as a man… Devotion never came again.” Here Shaffer uses Old Martin’s reflection on his past as a window through which the audience can see how Martin’s broken youth shaped him as a man, and uses realism to involve then in the action onstage, creating suspense.

Shaffer makes use of stage directions, which play a big part in revealing the symbolism of the performance, and creating...
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