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Absalom and Achitophel

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By: (1631-1700)

Absalom and Achitophel is a powerful and thought-provoking political allegory that delves into the themes of loyalty, betrayal, and the consequences of power. John Dryden's masterful use of language and imagery brings to life the biblical story of King David's rebellious son Absalom and his advisor Achitophel, reimagined in the context of 17th-century England.

The characters are complex and multi-dimensional, with Absalom embodying the charm and charisma of a charismatic leader, while Achitophel represents the cunning and manipulative nature of political ambition. The tension between these two figures drives the narrative forward, culminating in a dramatic climax that explores the destructive consequences of political intrigue and manipulation.

Dryden's poetic skill is on full display in Absalom and Achitophel, with his use of vivid imagery and metaphorical language creating a rich and engaging reading experience. The poem's exploration of power dynamics and moral ambiguity is as relevant today as it was when it was first published, making it a timeless and enduring work of literature.

Overall, Absalom and Achitophel is a captivating and insightful exploration of political power and moral corruption, with themes that resonate with readers long after they have finished the poem. Dryden's poetic talent shines through in this classic work, making it a must-read for anyone interested in poetry, politics, or the human condition.

Book Description:
John Dryden published Absalom and Achitophel: A Poem in 1681. It is an elaborate historical allegory using the political situation faced by Kind David (2 Samuel 14-18) to mirror that faced by Charles II. Each monarch had a son whom a high-ranking minister attempted to use against him. James Scott, first Duke of Monmouth, Charles II's illegitimate son, was detected planning a rebellion late in 1681, supposedly instigated by the Earl of Shaftesbury, who was tried for high treason, and it is believed that Dryden wrote the poem in an effort to sway the jury in his trial. The fates of both Absalom (Monmouth) and Achitophel (Shaftesbury) are left unspecified at the end of the poem (Monmouth did rebel in 1685, after his father's death, and was executed, and Shaftesbury was acquitted), but we are left to surmise that their fates would resemble those of their Biblical counterparts: Absalom was killed against David's instructions and Achitophel hanged himself.

The poem can be enjoyed without any special knowledge of either the Bible or seventeenth-century English history, but it is useful to understand why Monmouth (AKA Absalom) was such a useful tool to use against his father: Charles had many illegitimate offspring, but his wife was barren, so at his death the crown would pass (did pass) to his brother, James, who was Catholic, but Monmouth was Protestant as well as well-beloved by both the king and the people. England had good reason to dread a return of officially enforced Catholicism. The narrator's urbane attitude toward David's amatory adventures in the opening of the poem and his burlesque of the supposed Jebusitical plot (the "Popish Plot" of 1678) establish clearly his Tory bias in favor of the Establishment and his disdain of the panic caused by fear of Catholicism (Dryden himself converted to the Catholic faith at some time before 1685).


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