Absalom and Achitophel as a political allegory

Introduction: Allegory is literary device in a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.

Political allegory: Political allegories are stories that use imaginary characters and situations to satirize real-life political events.

Absalom and Achitophel as an political allegory: John Dryden (1631-1700) is a famous English poet. He is well known for his satirical poetry. His iconic poem is Absalom and Achitophel. The poem 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.

Read More: Drydens Art of Characterization: Absalom and Achitophel

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.

Allegorical characters: Absalom was persuaded by Achitophel to rebel against King David. Absalom symbolizes James Scott and Achitophel symbolizes Earl of Shaftesbury. Zimri stands for the second Duke of Buckingham. He is a poet, wit and politician. He epitomizes all mankind because sometimes he was a chemist, sometimes a musician, sometimes a statesman and sometimes a clown. He was expelled from the Royal Court because of his foolish plot against the King. Shimei is a Republican and a great supporter of the anti-royalist group. He stands for Slingsby Bethel, a sheriff of London and Middlesex. He accumulated wealth by cheating people and covered it up by his devotion to God. Corah stands for Titus Oates, who invented the Popish Plot and led the persecution of Catholics.

Dryden’s motive of using allegory: 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”.

Conclusion: 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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Ruhul Huda
Ruhul Huda

You can call me Mr. Huda. I am a researcher and doing this work for years. I like to learn everywhere. So, feel free to share your experience with me.

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