Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel

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Satire can be said to be literature method whose purpose is to reform human vices through laughter or disgust. The device is unique from scolding along with the sheer abuse, even though it is prompted through indignation. Its purpose is mainly constructive, however, it does not require to come from cynicism or misanthropy. In Absalom and Achitopel, Dryden marks his satire through a concentrated and convincing poetic style.  Notably, the poem points out that the satirist relates the test of certain moral and intellectual values towards men and women by defining their criminality level. The poem is about King Charles who after 20 years on the throne, wants to choose an heir to the throne. However, lack of a legitimate heir meant that he had to choose his younger brother as a successor but his people prefer Duke of Monmouth (one of the bastards). Dryden satirizes the story by comparing it to the Old Testament’s tale of David’s rebellious son, Absalom. In a bid to further explore this concept, the essay analyzes how Absalom and Achitophel satirize the English government and the follies of the English people.

According to Dryden, Absalom and Achitophel is a revolutionary political satire. The author uses several moments of humor to make fun of the religious state of affairs between Catholics and Protestants, as well the political drama that surrounded the death of King Charles. In this context, his satire is marked with a determined as well as convincing poetic style (Greenblatt 1367). For example, his satiric verse is majestic as seen in what pope calls “The long majestic march and divined power” (Greenblatt 1353). Critics have unanimously remarked on Dryden’s ability to change the trivial into one’s poetical envy and into the fury of imaginative construction.

The poem was created in the political situation in England and we cannot fail to recognize that a number of political individualities are satirized in the poem (Dryden 4). Additionally, the poet uses uncanny means to relate England’s issues to the many parallels in the bible. Published in 1681, the theme of the poem was suggested by the King himself. The Succession of the King was an issue of great importance and since the Earl of Shaftesbury had been thrown into prison, there were only two contenders for King Charles succession and they were Brother James (a Known Roman Catholic) and Duke of Monmouth (Charles’s illegitimate son). The public supported Munmouth while Charles and the Tories supported James. The King’s illegitimate son and the Earl of Shaftesbury lost and at this point, the author uses satire to describe the emperor’s pretense. For instance, the poem writes, “Would David have you thought his darling son?” (Greenblatt 1356). In addressing King Charles’ hypocrisy, Dryden writes, “This after God’s own heart to cheat his heir”. Principally, he exposes the King’s insincerity because he shunned his own son and yet claims to be a pious man.

Greenblatt proclaims that London had two sheriffs namely Singsby (a virulent enemy of Charles) and King Charles (1365). Dryden describes Singsby as an avaricious man “who never broke Sabbath, but for gain.” He comments satirically that, “he was a miser in who kitchen had no fire” (Greenblatt 1353). Dryden continues by saying that he was setting a good example to prevent London from another great fire; a statement that is obviously polemic. Another name that the poet uses is Corah (a name derived from the Old Testament). He was a particularly loathsome fellow whom Dryden describes as red-faced and lowly born. That description is invective because he pretends to praise him while in real sense he was condemning him.  Dryden’s literature did not contain specific qualities that are vaguely felt poetic as seen in the following statement, ‘’wonder along with brooding reverie were never of his universe; the illusion divine was not also for him’’ (Greenblatt 1357).

            Dryden practices the elderly indulgence of David (verse 31-33) to explain the legitimacy of the succession of Absalom (Greenblatt 1353). For instance, he emphasizes the narrative of the prodigal son, in creating a satirical picture of how an individual generous love creates a dispute on what is fair and what is not. Essentially, it might at the same time he regretted that the licentiousness of “good King Charles’s golden moments” discovers many illustrations in the comedies of Dryden. Religious matters concerning Dryden is not to be separated from his philosophical concepts. For instance, he doubted the competence of reason regarding religious matters and this can be easily be proved from the beginning verse: “Dim as the borrowed beams of moon and stars, to lonely, weary, wandering travelers, Is the reason to the soul” (Greenblatt 1360). Hence, the underlying skepticism of these lines partly explores the conversion of Dryden to Roman Catholicism.

Roman Catholic propaganda in England was deliberately aimed at weakening human’ trust in reason and this would lead Slingsby Bethel to edge to the one seat of authority known as Papal Throne (Greenblatt 1355). Satire is evident from the way Dryden describes Roman Catholic as a way in which apologetics advocated for a way of fideism that laid depression on individual’s religious knowledge at the cost of the value of reason and of the entire scripture. However, it is certainly not the experienced Roman Catholic Church theology, but it was an efficient way of persuading and intimidating the likes of Dryden with the promise of protection and government power.

Conclusion

            Conclusively, there are several various ways of comprehending satire in Dryden’s poem Absalom and Achitophel. The major general understanding compares “the relationship amongst fatherhood and kingship”. Moreover, by biblical allusions, Dryden relates classical fatherhood with present activities not only showing a precedent but at the same time showing the way religion relates to royalty in the English government.

Work Cited

Dryden, John, et al. Absalom and Achitophel: A poem. JT and are to be sold, 1708.

Greenblatt, Stephen. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Major Authors. 2013, 1352-1371. Print.

November 24, 2023
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Literature

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Literary Genres

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Poetry Literature Review

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4

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