Places: Absalom and Achitophel

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1681

Type of work: Poetry

Type of plot: Satire

Time of work: Biblical antiquity

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Jerusalem

*Jerusalem. Absalom and AchitophelCapital city of the ancient Israelites (also called Sion), beginning with King David’s reign. Within the poem itself, Jerusalem is never described; its presence is merely assumed as the backdrop for the action, as dictated by history. What interests Dryden is not so much the location of the story, but the psychology of the characters involved in the rebellion. Insofar as he uses a biblical story to reflect political events in England, Jerusalem represents London. Dryden uses biblical events and characters in the poem to mirror the political situation in late seventeenth century London–which can be equated with Jerusalem–when Lord Shaftesbury (equated with the biblical Achitophel) opposed Charles II (King David) in the choice of his brother, James, as heir to the throne. Shaftesbury conspires with the Duke of Monmouth (Absalom), the king’s illegitimate son, to become king.

Dryden’s narration utilizes biblical history as a model for other historical events, with its characters incarnating great archetypes that recur through history. Since Absalom’s rebellion may be seen as an archetype for political uprising by a family member against a legitimate ruler, Jerusalem may also be seen as an archetype–a symbol of any major capital city in which legitimate government is threatened by insurgency from within.

Although Dryden’s contemporaries understood his poem as a veiled statement about events in London, the poem’s narrative widens the potential interpretations of the story, its characters and its setting. Thus, Dryden’s Jerusalem transcends time and space, becoming not only London but a city anywhere at any time whose government is threatened by internal rebellion.

BibliographyGriffin, Dustin. “Dryden’s Charles: The Ending of Absalom and Achitophel.” Philological Quarterly 57 (Summer, 1978) 359-382. Argues that the end of the poem can be connected to the way Charles II himself behaved during the Exclusion crisis of 1678-1681–he waited for a right moment to act.Lewalski, Barbara K. “The Scope and Function of Biblical Allusion in Absalom and Achitophel.” English Language Notes 3 (1965): 29-35. Concerned with the range and importance of biblical allusion in Absalom and Achitophel and with its use in structuring the poem. Suggests the poem’s epic dimension.McKeon, Michael. “Historicizing Absalom and Architophel.” In The New Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English Literature, edited by Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown. New York: Methuen, 1987. Argues that, “In Absalom and Achitophel, Dryden proposes a model for a new sort of poetry, which draws power and value from the realms of religious faith, political allegiance, and historic factuality while evading subservience to them all.”Schilling, Bernard. Dryden and the Conservative Myth. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1961. Discusses Dryden’s role as spokesman for royalism and as creator of myths that justify and defend kingship. Shows how the myth appears in the structure, style, and content of Absalom and Achitophel.Thomas, Walter K. The Crafting of “Absalom and Achitophel”: Dryden’s “Pen for a Party.” Waterloo, Ontario, Canada: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1978. Investigates political conditions in England from 1678 to 1681. Discusses Dryden’s responses to them in Absalom and Achitophel.
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