Analysis of A Poem Absalom and Achitophel

Absalom and Achitophel as a Political Satire

Satire is a form of literature, the proclaimed purpose of which is the reform of human weaknesses or vices through laughter or disgust. Satire is totally different from scolding and sheer abuse, though it’s prompted by indignation. Its purpose is generally constructive, and want not arise from cynicism or misanthropy. The satirist applies the test of sure moral, mental and social requirements to women and men, and determines their diploma of criminality or culpability.

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Satire naturally has a variety; it could contain an assault on the vices of an age, or the defects of a person or the follies common to the very species of mankind.

Absalom and Achitophel is a landmark political satire by John Dryden. Dryden marks his satire with a concentrated and convincing poetic fashion. His satiric verse is majestic, what Pope calls: “The long majestic march and power divine”. Critics have unanimously remarked on Dryden’s capacity to rework the trivial into the poetical; personal envy into the fury of imaginative creation.

The obscure and the complicated is made clear and easy. All this reworking power is to be seen on the very starting of Absalom and Achitophel. The state of ‘Israel’ is straightforward to know and yet Dryden exhibits himself a master each of the Horatian and the Juvenalian types of Satire. He is urbance witty devastating and vigorous, but very seldom petty.

Ab & AC : Basically a Political Satire

Dryden called Absalom and Achitophel ‘a poem’ and not a satire, implying thereby that it had elements aside from purely satirical.

One can not, for instance, ignore the obvious epic or heroic touches in it. All the same, the poem originated within the political state of affairs of England at the time and one can’t fail to notice that a quantity of political personalities are satirised in it. Published in November 1681, the theme was advised by the king to Dryden. At this time, the question of succession to King Charles had assumed nice importance. The Earl of Shaftesbury had been thrown into jail to face a cost of high treason. There have been two contenders for the succession. Firstly, Charles’ brother James, Duke of York, a known Roman Catholic; the second contender was Charles’ illegitimate son, the Protestant Duke of Monmouth. The Whigs supported Monmouth while the Tories supported the cause of James to find a way to guarantee stability in the nation. There was great public unrest on account of the uncertainty of succession. King Charles II noticed to it that the Exclusion invoice introduced earlier than Parliament, to exclude the succession of his brother James, couldn’t be pushed by way of. The earl of Shaftesbury, a highly bold man, sought to capitalise on this unrest. He also urged Monmouth to insurgent against his father. The King, though fond of his illegitimate son, didn’t support his succession as a outcome of that might have been towards law. The Earl of Shaftesbury was arrested on a cost of high treason and lost in style support.

Dryden’s Aim in Absalom and Achitophel

The purpose of Dryden was to support the King and to reveal his enemies. Of course, Charles had his own weaknesses; he was extremely fond of girls. But Dryden places a charitable mantel over his sexual sins. He is mild in coping with his real vices. The king himself didn’t assume unfavourably of his love affairs. Sexual licence was the order of the age and as such, it did not deserve condemnation. Dryden has nothing however praise for the king’s moderation in political matters and his leniency in the path of rebels. Dryden’s lash falls on the King’s enemies particularly the Earl of Shaftesbury. He was reckless politician with none rules who, “ having tried in useless to seduce Charles to arbitrary authorities had turned spherical and now drives down the current”. Dryden dreads the fickleness of the mob and he is not positive to what extremes a crowd can go. However, the king’s strictness and instinct for the rule of legislation received for him well-liked assist and he was capable of determine the succession based on his need. Dryden’s reference to the godlike David shows his flattery of the King and his perception in the “Theory of the Divine Right of Kings”.

Political Satire Cast in Biblical Mould

Dryden selected the well known Biblical story of Absalom revolting in opposition to his father David, on the depraved instigation of Achitophel, so as to satirise the modern political situation. The choice of a Biblical allegory just isn’t authentic on dryden’s part, but his basic remedy of the subject is past comparison, as Courthope factors out. But all of the whereas Dryden takes care to see that the political satire in not misplaced within the confusion of a too intricate Biblical parallelism. The benefit of setting the story in pre-Christian occasions is obvious as it gave Dryden had at once to reward the King and satirise the King’s opponents. To discredit the opponents he had to emphasise on Monmouth’s illegitimacy; but at the identical time he needed to see that Charles (who was Monmouth’s father) was not adversely affected by his criticism. He couldn’t overtly condone Charles’ unfastened morals; at the identical time, he could not brazenly criticise it both. With a masterly touch he units the poem : “In pious instances are priestcraft did start Before polygamy was made a sin; When man on maultiplied his kind, Ere one to 1 was cursedly confined….” The ironical undertone can’t be missed; Dryden is clearly laughing up his sleeve at Charles himself, who, as a witty patron, couldn’t have missed it, nor didn’t get pleasure from it.


Dryden is appropriately regarded as essentially the most vigorous and polished of English satirists combining refinement with fervour. Dryden is unequalled at debating in rhyme and Absalom and Achitophel displays his power of arguing in verse. It may be said that Absalom and Achitophel has no rival within the field of political satire. Apart from the contemporary curiosity of the poem and its historic worth, it appeal to the modern reader lies in its observations on English character and on the weaknesses of man normally. His generalisations on human nature have a perennial interest. Dryden triumphed over the peculiar difficulties of his chosen theme. He needed to give, not abuse or politics,but the poetry of abuse and politics. He had to criticise a son whom the father still appreciated; he needed to make Shaftesbury denounce the King but he needed to see to it that the King’s susceptibilities were not wounded. He needed to reward without sounding servile and he needed to criticise artistically. Dryden achieves all this cleverly and skilfully. Achitophel’s denunciation of the king assumes the shades of a eulogy in Charles’ eyes. Absalom is a misguided instrument in Achitophel’s hands. The poem is actually a political satire, but it’s a blend of dignity with incisive and efficient satire.

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