The literary merits of John Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel can be surmised according to its conventions. For example, this two-part poem uses satire to artfully comment on a political situation involving England’s Charles II and mounting tensions among his illegitimate sons, which precipitated the Monmouth Rebellion of 1685. The use of satire as a literary convention allowed Dryden to indirectly praise and criticize members of the royal family without consequence.
Dryden wrote Absalom and Achitophel in the form of a mock heroic poem, which is a genre of literature that uses grandiose, ornate language to depict trivial subject matter. This format allowed Dryden to operate as a pseudo journalist in that he used a shorter, accessible format to report on a current event involving real life subjects.
Additionally, this poem uses biblical allegory as a literary convention to characterize Charles II, his sons and other important political players of the day. In the bible, Absalom plots a rebellion against his father, King David, which mirrored the situation between Charles II and his sons. Dryden used a familiar biblical text loaded with associations that readers could easily discern and relate to England’s political crisis.
In sum, some aspects of the literary merits of John Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel can be determined according to the literary conventions it employs, such as satire, mock heroic poetic structure and biblical allegory.