In his poem, Dryden assigns each figure in the crisis a biblical name; e. A second part of the poem—largely composed by Nahum Tate , playwright and poet laureate of Britain, but containing lines by Dryden that were directed at his literary rivals Thomas Shadwell and Elkanah Settle—was published in You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience and security. Absalom and Achitophel. Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback. Furthermore, David gives Absalom everything he wants, except the crown , and he has already told Absalom he would give him that, too, if he could.
Thus, Absalom claims, he has no right to ascend the throne—although he does wish he could. David is older, thus when his reign is over, the crown goes to his brother. Absalom knows this is the legal and just succession, but his ambition for power clouds his judgement. Achitophel can see that Absalom is not yet convinced that he should assert his royal blood and claim the crown , so Achitophel steps up his flattery. God has endowed Absalom with great virtue, Achitophel says, which is further proof he deserves the crown. David is powerful, but he is also kind, and Dryden therefore says the same of Charles II.
Achitophel will stand back as David continues to give all he has to the people.
Either way, Achitophel says, David will run out of money. Achitophel is banking on David going broke and having to appeal to the government to provide for the people, and when he does, David will be forced to sacrifice his own political agenda in exchange for money. Contrary to what Achitophel thinks, Dryden suggests that the people do not have a right to choose their king. Kings are endowed with divine power from God, Dryden argues, and that divine power is ignored when a true king is dethroned to make room for another.
After all, they did choose Saul as their king and oust God. Achitophel urges Absalom to seize his blood right and answer the call of the people. God has endowed David with the power to be king, Achitophel says, so it stands to reason that David can bestow the same power onto his son. Absalom should not stand back and watch David give his brother everything and willingly accept nothing, Achitophel argues.
Dryden draws a parallel between the power of the Jews to choose Saul as their king and the power of the English people to choose their own king, which they had done in the past when they chose Oliver Cromwell to rule and ousted Charles I. There is no time to waste, Achitophel says. Dryden had no way of knowing this in when he wrote the poem, but he does appreciate the danger, and as it turns out, that danger was not unfounded. He only wishes he had not been born a commoner.
Dryden paints the Jews, symbolically the English, as largely unhappy. They each have a different grievance, but each argument ultimately ends with the government. This adds to the social division of Israel and makes it easier for Achitophel to stir up trouble, which Dryden implies is the problem in England as well.
Others join them, and they grow increasingly vocal against the government, especially David, and try to weaken its power. This discontented group hate the Jebusites and believe their own cause to be right above all others. The law forced all public prayers and rites to follow the Book of Common Prayer , a prayer book used by Anglican Christians.
Two thousand Puritan preachers refused to conform and were ejected from the Church of England. Even more powerful than Jonas is Shimei , and he deeply hates David and all of the government. Shimei cheats the Jews out of money every chance he gets, so the people make him their magistrate. While Shimei is in office treason is not a crime, and all the crooks in Israel have a great time.
Shimei is interested in only money and power, and he manipulates justice to hurt David and protect his enemies. In this passage, Dryden paints the Jews by extension the English , as foolish for placing Shimei and Bethel in an elected position after proving himself so dishonest. Thus, many fail to see his deceit.
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Oates, too, was known for his impeccable memory. His story of the Popish Plot never once changed, which was one of the reasons why people believed it. Oates claimed a rabbinical degree that could never be confirmed, and Dryden here implies that it is a lie. Hiding his happiness, Absalom moves among the Jews.
He knows each of their names and makes a point to stop and visit with everyone, sympathizing with each of their individual plights and worries. Power and Ambition. Absalom tells the Jews that he, too, grieves the loss of their land and wishes that he could suffer on their behalf. Their freedom is at stake, he says.
Egypt and Tyrus are threatening their trade, and the Jebusites are threatening their religion. Absalom claims to still respect David , but as David befriends his enemies, his people suffer. Absalom begins to cry and wipes his eyes. Achitophel convinces Absalom that Absalom also has a divine right to the crown, and for David to deny him is to betray that right. If he went in for foreign help, people will detest him all the more. Achitophel further confined to him that by his cunning methods he had turned the people dead against David. People wanted their rights and liberty and they needed a suitable and capable leader to guide them in their movement.
And none was as suitable as Absalom because he had royal blood in his veins. Absalom listened to Achitophel's address attentively and felt flattered.
But he hesitated to act upon it at once. In the first flush of thought it appeared to him that the course he was called upon to follow was inappropriate and inadvisable. So he replied to Achitophel thus -. He is so merciful that he pardons even his enemies, and is ever eager to do good to his people.
Absalom and Achitophel by John Dryden
Even if he were a callous and cruel ruler oppressing his subjects it would not have been possible for me to rebel against him because he is after all my father. My sense of duty would deter me. Besides, he loves me and gives me every-thing except the right to inherit the crown because being his illegitimate issue I am not entitled to it.
His brother James has every right in law to the throne and he is just, noble and capable. I regret that fate has made me illegitimate. I feel that I am fit for being a king, and the desire to be great troubles my heart.
The concluding observation of Absalom gave hope to Achitophel. He realized shrewdly that Absalom loved to be great, but was hesitant. So he decided to make him firm in his resolve. With that end in view he began further and spoke to Absalom thus,. God has made you to rule and so you must give the people the bliss and blessings of your reign, David is undoubtedly gentle and generous, but manly vein and vigor suits a king better. The people take his gentleness as a sign of weakness and so hate him. And thinking him a weak ruler they are trying to free themselves from his bondage.
Sanhedrin Parliament kept him poor, and every time he approached it for funds he was obliged by it to give up some of his rights. I myself would continue to embarrass him with new plots of entangle him in the mesh of costly wars. His faithful friends are all suspects and he is hated by the people, for he is a Catholic.
Moreover, the kings are the trustees of the people who have every right to withdraw the executive authority which the king holds and weilds as their trustee. The laws of succession are made for the good of the people. As for his love, let him show it in actual practice. If he loves you, why does he not declare you his successor? His brother hates you, and is waiting for a suitable opportunity to annihilate you. You should, therefore, take time by the forelock and strike while the iron is hot. You should rise against your father, but pose and declare to the people that the King's life was in danger and you are only trying to free him from the clutches of his enemies, the Catholics.
And who can say that, perhaps, David himself wants to make you the king but is afraid of his brother and wants to be taken by force. The most important among Achitophel's followers was Zimri Duke of Buckingham. He was an inconstant man of rigidly held extremist views. He squandered away his wealth and was banished from court on account of his own fault and foolishness.
He then tried to form parties against the King, but could not become the leader of any one of them. He was inherently wicked, but lacked the means to put his wickedness into practice. He was so badly corrupt and debased that he did not shrink from even cursing the King. He was a miser of the worst type, so much so that he gave not a single entertainment during the tenure of his office. He starved his servants, drank no wine and kept no kitchen. He made his pile by cheating others in different ways. During his term as magistrate the wicked had a field day and the enemies of the king received every protection.
In short, he was a very mean person. But the worst of them all was Corah Titus Oates.
Absalom and Achitophel | poetry by Dryden and Tate | Britannica
He was the son of a weaver, but the fact of his hatching the Popish Plot raised him in the people's esteem. He posed as the protector of society and the King and verified the plot on oath. His sunken eyes and harsh, loud voice was indicative of his ill-temper and proud nature.