Absalom and Achitophel by John Dryden

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What happens in Absalom and Achitophel?

Absalom and Achitophel satirizes the Whig Party, which sought to prevent the succession of James, Duke of York, to the English throne. Dryden ridicules the Whigs and present favorable portraits of James' supporters. In the end, the Whigs succeed, and Charles II takes the throne.

  • Dryden turns his wit on the Whigs, a political party that tried to break the traditional line of succession and prevent James, Duke of York, from ascending to the throne.

  • Dryden devotes half of the poem to scathing portraits of Whig leaders, whose real names he hid using Biblical names like Absalom and Achitophel.

  • Dryden devotes another section to favorable portraits of James' faithful supporters. Charles II, however, ascends to the throne.

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Dryden’s political satire Absalom and Achitophel reflects upon politics in England during the era of the Popish Plot (1679-1681), when the Whig Party, under the leadership of the earl of Shaftesbury, sought to prevent the legitimate succession of James, duke of York, because of his Catholicism. The Whigs supported a parliamentary bill that would have placed the illegitimate son of Charles II, James, duke of Monmouth, on the throne. Alarmed by efforts to tamper with established monarchical power, Dryden employs the biblical revolt against David by his son Absalom as a parallel narrative to discredit the Whig cause.

The poem represents a mixed, or Varronian, kind of satire, for satiric passages exist alongside straightforward normative portions. The plot is both loose and inconclusive, the satiric elements being confined to the poem’s first major section. Dryden narrates the origin and development of the supposed plot, which the Whigs had concocted to discredit the king’s...

(The entire section is 291 words.)