Absalom and Achitophel

by John Dryden

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How does Dryden's Zimri satirize James II in Absalom and Achitophel?

Quick answer:

Dryden's Zimri actually satirizes George Villiers, the Second Duke of Buckingham, a disreputable statesman widely accused of treason. However, just as the Biblical character of Zimri was considered no threat to King David, the Duke of Buckingham doesn't represent much of a threat to King Charles II, who is depicted in Absalom and Achitophel as the ancient King of Israel.

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George Villiers, the Second Duke of Buckingham was an utterly disreputable figure. For one thing, he was an incorrigible libertine and rake. He was once recalled in disgrace from his journey to France with Princess Henrietta, Charles I's eldest daughter, for making unseemly overtures towards her.

He was also notorious for being involved in all manner of treacherous intrigue. An inveterate plotter, Buckingham was so hell-bent on securing what he saw as his rightful position at court that he was prepared to conspire with Louis XIV, the King of France, to destroy his enemies.

Yet ultimately, Buckingham represented no real threat to the overall stability of the country. Just like the character of Zimri in the Bible, who represents Buckingham in Absalom and Achitophel, he is such a buffoon that, for all his plotting and intrigue, he will never achieve the power he seeks, at least not for very long.

In the Bible, Zimri was King of Israel for just seven days, and even then presented no real threat to King David. By the same token, the Duke of Buckingham presents no real threat to King Charles II, despite his numerous intrigues.

What Dryden is doing here is to poke fun at Buckingham's over-inflated ego, his mistaken belief that he is a big-time player in the world of Jacobean power politics, when in actual fact he's nothing more than a fool that no one takes seriously.

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