Absalom and Achitophel English Summary 

Basic Information

Writer: John Dryden (1631-1700)

Published date: 1681

Genre: Mock-heroic poem/ Allegorical Poem.

Form: Heroic Couplet 

Themes: Political satire, Biblical allegory, Erosion of value and power of poetry, Desire for power, Paternity, Fitness of Charles II.

Political party:

Tories & Whigs.


  • Present name: Now British Conservative Party
  • The motto of Tories: God, King and Country- It means that God elected the king, and the king will reign over the country.


  • Present name: British Liberal Party.
  • Motto: Liberalism. They believe in Democracy and freedom.

Symbolic characters and Symbols

David: Charles II

Absalom: James Scott

Achitophel: Anthony Ashley Cooper 

Hebron: Scotland

Israel: England

Jew: English people and Protestant.

Jebusites: Roman Catholic 

Saul: Oliver Cromwell 

Jonah: Sir William Jones

Corah: Titus Oates.


Biblical Characters – Old Testament

David (originally Charles II) : King of Israel in accordance with the Bible.

Absalom (James Scott): Illegitimate son of King David.

Achitophel (Anthony Ashley Cooper): Councilor of David.

Corah (Titus Oates): Priest.

Zimri: Men of Achitophel

The Pharaoh: Friend of David. But actually his enemy.

Allegorical Characters: 

1. David/ Charles II: King of the British Empire.

2. Absalom/ James Scott: Duke of Monmouth. Worthy son of Charles II.

3. James II: Brother of Charles II. He was a Catholic Christian.Duke of York.

4. Achitophel/ Anthony Ashley Cooper: Most intelligent councilor of Charles II. Earl of Shaftesbury.


“Absalom and Achitophel” is a poem written by John Dryden, published in 1681. It echoes the story of the rebellion against King David in the Old Testament of the Bible. John Dryden in his poem, uses this biblical story as an allegory to comment on the political situation in England during the reign of King Charles II. To understand this poem you need to know about these three things.

  • The Exclusion Bill
  • Popish Plot and
  • Monmouth rebellion

Because the purpose of writing this poem was centered on these three events.

  • The Exclusion Bill (1679-81)

The Caroline era was named after King Charles I. The duration of this era was from 1625-1649. That is, during this time King Charles I ruled England. He had two sons. The elder child was named Charles II and the younger child was named James II. During this time Puritan leaders began to agitate to oust Charles I from power and seek to establish democracy. And under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, Charles I was publicly beheaded in 1649. And Charles II was exiled to Scotland. However, it had the support of the people of England. Then Oliver Cromwell ruled England from 1649 to 1660. But he failed to establish democracy, so the people of England want to establish monarchy again. So in 1660, Charles II, the eldest son of Charles I, was again installed on the throne. England then made great progress in all fields including economics, science, technology, and literature. Then in 1679 Charles II became very ill. When Charles II died, a question arose in the public mind as to who would be the next King of England. Because Charles II had no legitimate children. As he had no legitimate children, he wanted his younger brother James II to be king. But some people in England could not accept it. Because James II was Roman Catholic, on the other hand, the people of England were Protestant. In order to prevent James II from being installed in power, they politically introduced a bill in the late 1670s and early 1680s, called The Exclusion Bill. Its aim was to exclude the Roman Catholic James, Duke of York, from the line of succession to the English throne.

James II was actually a Roman Catholic. English Protestants, therefore, feared that if he became king, he would use his power to re-establish Roman Catholicism as the dominant religion in England. These fears were fueled by a number of factors, including James’s public support for Catholicism, his marriage to a Catholic woman, and his close relationship with the Catholic monarchs of Europe.

The Exclusion Bill was first proposed by the Whig Party in 1679. It was a political party that opposed the policies of the ruling Tories and supported Protestantism. The bill aimed to remove James from the line of succession and replace him with the king’s illegitimate son, James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, who was a Protestant. The bill was passed by the House of Commons but repeatedly blocked by the House of Lords until 1681. This was because the House of Lords was dominated by James II’s Tory supporters. And John Dryden wrote this poem with Biblical reference based on this political upheaval. This bill ultimately contributed to the overthrow of James II in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. And established Protestantism as the dominant religion in England.

  • Popish Plot – 1678

Titus Oates swears by God to spread the word that the Catholics are plotting to kill Charles II. But later it was proved false. So Titus Oates was later punished.

  • Monmouth Rebellion

The Monmouth Rebellion took place in 1685 when James II came to power after the death of Charles II due to James Scott. James Scott led this rebellion with the help of Anthony Ashley Cooper.

English Summary:

In the poem, King David represents King Charles II and his illegitimate son Absalom represents James Scott, Duke of Monmouth. James Scott was rumored to be the illegitimate son of Charles II. Here, Achitophel (Earl of Shaftesbury) refers to the Earl of Shaftesbury. He was a political figure who was involved in various attempts to limit the power of the monarchy. 

1. A Defense of King David by John Dryden

King David is ruling Israel very nicely, peacefully, and righteously. He is very popular among the people. But David has many mistresses throughout Israel. Because at that time kings could have more than one wife and mistress if they wanted. And it was religiously valid in Israel at that time. David’s wife’s name was Michal (Catherine Braganza-wife of Charles II). She was also a king’s daughter. But he was not having any children. So David kept many mistresses. This is essentially how John Dryden defends King David.

2. Description of Absalom

Absalom is very brave and intelligent. So David always praised him and liked him a lot. Absalom killed his half brother Amanon. This is because Amanon raped their half-sister. But their father David forgave Absalom because Absalom established justice. And Absalom also loved and respected his father.

3. David’s Kingship and His Regime

The Jews of Israel liked to change kings every 20 years. That is, they never depended on one king. So they once put Saul (Oliver Cromwell) in power. Dissatisfied with Saul’s rule, the people of Israel brought David from Hebron (where he was exiled) to Israel and installed him as king.

So when David became king, the Jebusites (Roman Catholic) demanded Jerusalem from David. They said Jerusalem was theirs. But the Jews prevailed over the Jebusites and captured Jerusalem. Then the Jebusites sought the help of the Egyptian Pharaoh. But it was of no use. The Jews succeeded in suppressing the mass movement of the Jebusites. And in Israel, the ruling power of the Jews continued very smoothly until the death of David.

4. Achitophel’s conspiracy against David

But at this point, Achitophel, a greedy Jew, wanted to take advantage of David’s weakness. He originally wanted to be the king of Israel. But he knew that he was not a member of the royal family, so he could never be king. Thinking this, he planned to harm David. So to replace David, he started using his son Absalom. He told Absalom, Absalom is qualified to rule the kingdom. He is very brave and intelligent. But why is David planning to make David’s brother king instead of making Absalom king? Israel needs an excellent king. And this excellent king can only be Absalom. Absalom must declare rebellion against David to regain his rights. Thus he continued to whisper evil in Absalom’s ears.

But Absalom says, he finds no fault with his father here. He knows that his father loves him a lot and respects him a lot. But at one place he also got a bit hesitant. And that is, even after he has a worthy successor, why does his father want to make his uncle the king! Achitophel then realizes that his evil plan is working. He then tells Absalom that Absalom should see if his father is really working for the Jews? Achitophel tells Absalom, “I will put your father in a crisis. Then it will be known what he wants. If he asks for help from the Jebusites or Pharaoh, then it will be understood that David has become a Jebusite. Then the Jews will reject him already”. Then Achitophel said, referring to Saul, “Saul was rejected by the people. Because he could not rule well. And David was put in power by the people. So if David becomes the Jebusites, the people will go to your side. And you will be, Israel’s.” The Next King”. Thus he brainwashed Absalom.

5. Absalom’s rebellion against David

Now Corah made a plot like that Popish plot. And then all of Israel was divided into two parts. On one side, David’s supporter, on the other hand, Absalom and Achitophel’s supporter. Now Absalom, on the advice of Achitophel, began to travel to different parts of the country to form public opinion. He was repeatedly explaining to the people why his father was planning to make his uncle, a Jebusite, king even though he was a worthy heir! So Absalom built a strong public support for him throughout Israel.

6. King David’s speech and the establishment of peace in Israel

Meanwhile, Amiel, a loyal supporter of King David, alerts King David to the plot of Absalom and Achitophel. King David reviews everything very well. He got very angry. He gave a speech to the people of Israel. He said, he has done the duty of father for so long. This time he will serve as king. And he will not tolerate any conspiracy in Israel. He loves the people of Israel as his own children. Hearing his speech, the people understand that Absalom and Achitophel have been misled for so long.

The poem then begins a final battle between King David’s army and Absalom. Absalom was eventually defeated in battle and killed. Achitophel chooses to commit suicide. Meanwhile, King David was able to maintain his reign and restore order to the kingdom. Among King David’s loyal supporters was a character named Zadok and a character named “Earl of Rochester”. Here, together, they work to thwart Ahithophel’s plans and preserve the rightful succession to the throne.

Finally some words

Throughout the poem, Dryden uses vivid and satirical language to comment on the political situation in England. He portrays Ahithophel as a scheming and manipulative man who does not hesitate to sacrifice Absalom for his own political ambitions. He also criticized the Whig Party for its opposition to the monarchy. Despite its political commentary, “Absalom and Achitophel” is one of Dryden’s powerful creations. Dryden’s use of metaphor and his mastery of language and form have established the poem as a classic of English literature.

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

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