Absalom and Achitophel
A Poem

by John Dryden


Often considered one of the finest satires in the English language, and certainly one of the finest of English poetry, Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel is an examination of the political turmoil following the Restoration of Charles II to the throne and subsequent inability to sire an heir upon the queen. However, he was able to sire many sons on various women who were not his wife, and thus had no legal claim to the throne. First among these was Charles' favorite son, James Scott, Duke of Monmouth. The only legal heir to the throne was Charles' brother James, Duke of York, later James II of England. James Scott--a Protestant much loved by the people--led a rebellion but was crushed, and James II--a Catholic, and thus despised by the English majority--ascended the throne.

Dryden's poem shows a sympathy for the Catholics, who had experienced a great deal of persecution on and off since the days of Queen Elizabeth. Indeed, he leaves the blame for this turmoil to the political machinations of certain members of the government.

The poem itself takes the subject matter of II Samuel 13-18, the rebellion of Absalom against his father David, drawing a distinct parallel between the two situations. Moreover, it is an example of a not-unusual idea of England as the new Israel (also seen in such subjects as the Grail romance, Wiliam Blake's poetry, and the British-Israel society).

In this node, based upon the first edition*, I have attempted to pipelike not only relevant nodes, but the true identities of such groups as the Jews, David, and Achitophel. Also, the division into four sections is of my invention, not Dryden's; the poem itself is one continuous piece, and this obviously would be tedious to look at.

*The "second edition" is a spurious edition not written by Dryden

Intro | I | II | III | IV