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Absalom And Achitophel: John Dryden's Legitimate Yearning For An Absolute Monarch

2427 words - 10 pages

As England’s Poet Laureate, John Dryden was expected to appeal to the current monarch’s best interest, and the steadiness of the Stuart dynasty was of utmost importance during the close of the 17th century. An overt propagandist for King Charles II, Dryden writes a disclaimer for his readers and acknowledges that, “he who draws his pen for one party must expect to make enemies of the other” (Damrosch 2077). The threat of instability within the institution of the British Crown became a pressing matter that is addressed in Absalom and Achitophel. The polarized factions, one in favor of an illegitimate Protestant monarch and the other supporting the ancient line of succession, created a great deal of social turmoil during the Restoration era. The degradation of a time-honored monarchical system became a problem during the Exclusion Crisis, when even potential kings were being excluded from high-ranking titles due to their allegiance to the Roman Catholicism. According to Dryden, a king’s blood does not confer divine right, nor does a bastard constitute a king. The frenzy of this regal instability ushered in the foolishness of the Whig’s convoluted Popish Plot and parliamentary attempts at a Catholic exclusion. The Civil War and Interregnum had been such a state of mayhem that Dryden is convinced that a bastardization of the ancient rite of succession will permanently undermine the potency of the English Crown. The masquerade of monarchs and the dismal idea of a constitutional monarchy are ridiculous to the loyal Tories. The alternatives to absolutism are terrifying to the conservative establishment, and their collective fears resonate in Dryden’s heroic couplets. Absalom and Achitophel’s purpose is to correct the vices of the public via instruction on the rightful claim to absolute rule. Additionally, verse is utilized as a tool to dispel what he and Charles II see as treasonous plots against his establishment. Dryden also utilizes the classical “invocation of divine omnipotence in an attempt to clarify the reach of the legal governmental powers of the human sovereign” (Oakley 679). In the absence of a rightful heir, there can be no valid king. This crisis of legitimization is illustrated through the political satire of the Biblical story of King David and his bastard son, Absalom. Adapted from the narrative in the 1 Samuel 8, Dryden’s pro-Stuart agenda appeals to educate the ignorant public on the merits of a rightful king. The Poet Laureate predicts that the replacement of true authority will only result in the spawning of a corrupt and bastardized chain of rulers. John Dryden’s allegorical purpose in Absalom and Achitophel is to reinforce his explicit desire for an absolute monarchy, which can never materialize in the form of an illegitimate king.
During this turbulent period in English history, two major political factions rose from the divided groups disappointed with current affairs. The Whigs, receiving their name from...

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