Review Of John Dryden’s Absalom And Achitophel
John Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel, a satirical poem was written using heroic couplet form. His satiric verse is majestic, as Pope calls: “The long majestic march and energy divine”. Dryden wrote this poem by the request of Charles 2 in order to defend the King and his followers against the Whigs led by the Earl of Shaftesbury.
Achitophel represents the Earl of Shaftesbury who is an unscrupulous political intriguer. He is a treacherous conspirator whose name was cursed not only by the people of his contemporary age but also by the subsequent generations. Dryden says: “Sagacious, Bold, and Turbulent of wit:Restless, unfixt in Principles and Place; In Power unpleas’d, impatient of Disgrace. A fiery Soul, which working out its way, Fretted the Pigmy Body to decay:” Here, he is seen as sagacious and bold character who had a lust for power but when he had power he wasted it. Apparently, he emerged to be prudent and dauntless but he had a stormy mind encased in a pigmy body. He is evil and perilous because of his ambition and intellect, which he uses for subversive ends. He is a bold character in the times of danger as evident in these lines “Pleas’d with the Danger, when the Waves went high He sought the Storms; but for a Calm unfit”.
He is false in friendship with Absalom and merciless in enmity. Dryden argued that he had a feeble and sickly body but he never cared it and wasalways engaged in plotting intrigues against the crowd, King and Absalom for his self-intersst. The nature of Shaftesbury can be related very well with the words of Hobbes, “The Power of man, to take it Universally, is his present means to obtain some futue apparent Good”. He has a sense of integrity, sincerity and fair sense as a judge. He is not a nincompoop but the great wits has made him unfit. He is manipulative because he actually tried to manipulate the crowd and Absalom as well. Achitophel united the dissatisfied people of England into a single party which had been working separately, now began to work collectively to achieve the identical goal. He attempts to convince Absalom to join his rebellion. He first used the weapon of flattery to win over Absalom, annunciating that the nation was clamouring for him – a “second Moses Thus, Achitophel is an amalgamation of exceptional intellectual caliber and stupendous moral bankruptcy. Such men like him, pursue their ambitious and selfish political goal with exceptional brilliance through evasive means, do exist. There may be few people of such brilliant intellect who put their intelligence to such devious schemes, but they certainly settle in all places and in all times.
It is true to some extent that, the Earl of Shaftesbury can’t be removed from the context in which Dryden puts him, for we can’t have the same political situation as in England at that time. But most of the features presented in Achitophel are to be found universally among politicians.
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