Absalom and Achitophel

by John Dryden
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The poem is a political satire in heroic couplets, in which David, King of Israel, is a poetic representation of Charles II.  The Jews are beset by fears and rumors of plots against the King by a discredited sect, led by Achitophel, who stirs the crowd with a view to replacing...

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The poem is a political satire in heroic couplets, in which David, King of Israel, is a poetic representation of Charles II.  The Jews are beset by fears and rumors of plots against the King by a discredited sect, led by Achitophel, who stirs the crowd with a view to replacing the rightful heir with Absalom, the king’s illegitimate son. Though Absalom is reluctant to challenge David, he finds the  prospect of power appealing and leaves the capital to gather popular support.

After a lengthy section urging avoidance of extremes in government, the poem praises the king’s allies. David brings the poem to a close with an oration condemning factionalism and warning of punishment for those guilty.

The poem has the satirical purpose of discrediting opponents of King David (Charles II): Achitophel (the Earl of Shaftesbury), Corah (Titus Oates), and others. Contemporary readers easily recognized the objects of the satire, who are ridiculed by being portrayed as reckless and extravagant extremists.

 

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