John Dryden's poem Absalom and Achitophel often uses economic imagery. What is Dryden's main point when employing these references to money and property?
How does this kind of imagery relate to the overall theme of the poem?
John Dryden’s poem Absalom and Achitophel mocks and condemns those who plotted rebellion against King Charles II of England, who is presented in this allegorical poem as the Biblical King David. One passage describes potential rebels against Charles as follows:
The next for interest sought to embroil the state,
To sell their duty at a dearer rate,
And make their Jewish markets of the throne;
Pretending public good, to serve their own.
Others thought kings an useless heavy load,
Who cost too much, and did too little good.
These were for laying honest David by,
On principles of pure good husbandry. (501-08)
These lines satirize the motives of some of Charles’ opponents. It suggests that those opponents were more interested in private profit than in loyalty to the commonwealth. To advance their own narrow economic interests, they were willing to “embroil the state” – in other words, cause destructive conflict within the kingdom. Rather than being genuinely loyal to Britain and its king, their motives were purely selfish and mercenary. They were willing to sell their superficial loyalty to the highest bidder, and they were also willing to “sell out” the greater interests of the kingdom in order to profit financially.
Other opponents of Charles considered monarchs and monarchy superfluous because they believed that the institution of monarchy was too costly to the nation. They felt that monarchy wasn’t worth the price paid for it. Their calculations were purely materialistic. Rather than seeing the monarch as a divinely-appointed servant of the people, these opponents of the king were willing to overthrow Charles in order to save the state some money (and thus decrease their own need to pay taxes). Their motives (according to Dryden) were crudely financial; no higher, more spiritual, or more patriotic values are important to them. Dryden thus implies that his own motives in supporting Charles are more lofty and disinterested and rooted in genuinely loyalty to the king and kingdom.