Dryden was a famous English poet, best known for his satirical poetry. His Absalom and Achitophel is considered as one of his best political satire. The poem is allegoric in nature. Dryden uses the device of allegory in order to criticize the political situation of his time.
The restoration of England Monarchy began in 1660. Before Restoration, Oliver Cromwell was ruling over England and subsequently his son Richard Cromwell. During these several years, there was no monarchy in England. In 1610, English, Scottish, and Irish monarchies were all restored under Charles II.
In 1681 in England, Charles II was in his advanced years and had no legitimate heirs. His brother, James II was not liked by people because of his intense incline towards Roman Catholics. On the other hand, James Scott, the illegitimate son of King Charles and the Duke of Monmouth, was very popular for both his personal charisma and his favor for the Protestants. Moreover, there was also a prevailing tussle among the Wighs and Tories.
When Charles’ health suffers, there was a panic in the House of Common over the chances of the nation being ruled by a Roman Catholic King. People were eager to see Duke of Monmouth as their future king, but according to the law of succession, he could not rule the nation. Wighs ignited the fire of rebellion against King Charles. The James Scott was manipulated by Earl of Shaftesbury to rebel against his father. The James Scott was caught preparing to rebel and this lead to his execution by the orders of James II in 1685.
Dryden wrote this poem on King’s demand. Through this poem, Dryden lampooned the Wighs and Earl of Shaftesbury. However, he did not use harsh criticism for James Scott. Absalom and Achitophel veils its political satire under the transparent disguise of a Biblical Story. This poem perfectly depicts the existing crisis and political issues of the contemporary society.
Absalom was persuaded by Achitophel to rebel against King David. Absalom symbolizes James Scott and Achitophel symbolizes Earl of Shaftesbury. Dryden, using the Biblical Allegory, satirizes Achitophel and those who were following him. The satire proceeds from leader to the followers: the Whigs. Through his poem, Dryden wants to tell King Charles that James Scott was not guilty because the person who inflamed the will of rebellion in James Scott was Earl of Shaftesbury. The poem also satirized King Charles but not in harsh words. He criticized the King by mentioning his “many wives and slaves”.
Absalom and Achitophel remains the greatest political satire in English Literature, partly because of its judicious and moderate satire and partly because of its true depiction of the follies and vices that prevails in a particular section of the nation.
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