Absalom and Achitophel is a poem written by

Absalom and Achitophel
is a poem written by John Dryden that explains the political condition of
England and who should come to the throne in high satire. Dryden uses satire
against the King, historical references, and a Biblical tale as an allegory to
represent the story of King Charles II and the Exclusion Crisis.

wrote the poem in favor of King Charles II and to expose his enemies even
though he had used the King’s greatest weakness, his fondness of women. King
Charles II had many mistresses and had many illegitimate children with them.
Yet, Dryden did not portray the King in a bad manner and covered his sins; and
did nothing but praise the King for his political matters and tolerance of the
people rebelling against him. In the first opening of the poem, Dryden
immediately described the King as a God saying “Then Israel’s monarch after
Heaven’s own heart,/ His vigorous warmth did variously impart/ To wives and
slaves; and, wide as his command,/ Scattered his Maker’s image through the
land” (Dryden 2214). This relates the King to God in the sense that through
polygamy, the King has created life in Israel just like God has created
humankind through Adam and Eve. Even though Dryden did not deal with the King’s
real vices, it shows that the King’s actions are not without flaw which becomes
clear when Absalom, his illegitimate son, is introduced.

historical context of Absalom and
Achitophel has to do with King Charles’ having no legitimate heirs and
leaving his brother, James the Duke of York who was a Roman Catholic, as the
future ruler. King Charles’ illegitimate son James the Duke of Monmouth
(Absalom), was very popular among the people for his charm and passion for the
Protestant cause. When the King’s health condition worsened, the people were in
panic of potentially being ruled by a Roman Catholic because of the Popish
Plot, a conspiracy started by Titus Oats that gripped the kingdoms in an anti-Catholic
hysteria. The Earl of Shaftesbury took the opportunity to advocate the
Exclusion Bill that would prevent James the Duke of York to succeed to the
throne but the bill was rejected. This lead The Earl of Shaftesbury to appeal
to The Duke of Monmouth to rebel against his father, King Charles II and succeed
the thrown since there is no other way that he will become King because of his
illegitimacy. When the Duke of Monmouth was caught preparing to rebel against
his father, The Duke of Shaftesbury was suspected to have come up with the plan
and was then seized and charged with treason.

poem has a Biblical background related to the Old Testament. Absalom’s
rebellion against his own father can be seen in the Second Book of Samuel; so,
he gives each character a biblical name: The Duke of Monmouth into Absalom; Duke
of Buckingham into Zimri the unfaithful servant; King Charles II into David;
Earl of Shaftesbury into Achitophel; Titus Oates into Corah. Dryden also makes
Israel represent England, the Jews represent the English men, and the Jews represent
the Whigs who are against the king. This context gives Dryden the opportunity
to praise the King as a God and satirize the people against him which in this
case was Achitophel and his followers, the Whigs.

conclusion, Absalom and Achitophel is a great political satire because it
depicts the political situation in the restoration of the monarchy and the
people’s foolishness and vices. Dryden’s satire was made to criticize a son who
was still loved by their father, it makes The Duke of Shaftesbury denounce the
king without wounding the King in any way, and praise the King without sounding
like he serves him. All of it was done skillfully that it portrayed Absalom as
being misguided by Achitophel.