John Dryden – “Absalom and Achitophel” (ctd.)

Achitophel, seeing the opening that Absalom’s admission about his ambition gave him, seizes it. If God gave you ambition, he argues, it surely means he wants you to be a king. I have already intrigued against his brother and made him appear obnoxious to everybody. (Dryden seems to skate skilfully over the fact that James II is, in fact, in the parlance of the poem a “Jebusite”.) The laws of succession surely cannot be binding if they are about to put on the throne a ruler so unpopular with his subjects. God said he loved your father and to prove it, he anointed him king; now it’s your father’s turn to show that he loves you. Besides, David’s brother already knows how popular Absalom is with people and looks on him with jealousy, so Absalom’s attack is essentially going to be a preventive one and in self-defense. Maybe actually David secretly wants Absalom to inherit the crown, but he is afraid to take back the word he gave to his brother, so he is like a woman who says “no” when she means “yes”. “Commit a pleasing rape” (ugh), urges Achitophel, take your father hostage and you are going to set the rules.


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