Whereas the wit of satire before Dryden and the Restoration would tax the common abuses and vices of the people in rough and bitter attacks, the wit that Dryden uses to expose his characters in Absalom and Achitophel, for instance, is rather good-humored than splenetic and genial than bitter. Dryden indeed defined the true art of satire as consisting of “fine raillery,” a natural gift of genius, in which one understood
how easy it is to call rogue and villain, and that wittily! But how hard to make a man appear a fool, a blockhead, or a knave, without using any of those opprobrious terms! To spare the grossness of the names, and to do the thing yet more severely, is to draw a full face, and to make the nose and cheeks stand out, and yet not to employ any depth of shadowing.
Dryden’s wit in Absalom and Achitophelforgoes direct condemnation and vituperative attack against the flawed Charles the II's analog with ingenuity and adroitness. Such is apparent in the following passage:
In pious times, ere priestcraft did begin,
Before polygamy was made a sin,
When man on many multiplied his kind,
Ere one to one was cursedly confined;
When nature prompted, and no law denied
Then Israel's monarch, after heaven's own heart,
His vigorous warmth did variously impart
To wives and slaves: and wide as his command
Scattered his Maker's image through the land.
It may be observed of the above character depiction that Dryden wittily exposes faults yet is in no part odious, that is to say too tart, or bitter, nor lapses into base mockery or slander. Rather, Charles erred by an excess of "vigorous warmth". This good-humored quality gives the authoritative voice of the satire credibility as it seems too discerning and careful of veracity to let ire at some fault or another override any positive qualities as really existed in the historical characters. A disadvantage of this approach is that it limits the degree of sharpness that could otherwise be used in exposing faults and foibles.