The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The political situation in Israel (England) had much to do with David’s (Charles II’s) virility, which, though wasted on a barren queen, produced a host of illegitimate progeny, of which by far the fairest and noblest is Absalom (duke of Monmouth). David’s kingly virtues are equally strong but unappreciated by a great number of Jews (Whigs), who, because of a perverse native temperament, want to rebel. Although David provides no cause for rebellion, as the wiser Jews (Tories) point out, a cause is found in the alleged Jebusite (Catholic) plot to convert the nation to the Egyptian (French) religion. The plot miscarries, but it does create factions whose leaders are jealous of David and oppose his reign.

Achitophel (the Earl of Shaftesbury, leader of the Whigs) is the chief of these leaders, and he makes efforts to persuade Absalom to seize the throne. Achitophel is a brilliant wit touched by the madness of ambition. Unwilling to be remembered only for his distinguished career as a judge, he resolves “to ruin or to rule the State,” using the king’s alleged sympathy for the Jebusites as an excuse for rebellion. Achitophel first uses flattery to win over Absalom, proclaiming that the nation is clamoring for him—a “second Moses.” At first Absalom resists, pointing out that David is a wise and just king, and that David’s brother (the duke of York) is the legal heir. These halfhearted objections Achitophel meets with sophistry. David’s mildness, he claims, deteriorated into weakness; the public good demands Absalom’s strength; the rightful heir is planning to murder Absalom; David secretly wants Absalom to be king and will support his claim as heir to the throne. To these specious arguments Absalom succumbs, whereupon Achitophel proceeds to organize all the Jewish malcontents into a single seditious party....

(The entire section is 751 words.)