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

Absa lom falls for Achitophel’s designs, but Dryden does his best to exonerate him: he would really make a good king, what a pity his birth was not high enough, “[‘t]is juster to lament him than to accuse”. Achitophel starts plotting and attracts a motley crew: his party includes noblemen, who were really patriotic, but “thought the power of monarchy too much… /Not wicked men, but seduced by impious arts”. Then there are people who think about potential financial gains for themselves or who think monarchy just costs taxpayers too much. Then there is Jerusalem/London mob, hating Jebusites/Catholics, led by Levites/Presbyterian priests who were pulled from the ark/deprived of their livings. Then there are Dissenters, blinded by their religious enthusiasm. And finally there is Zimri, or 2nd Duke of Buckingham, with whom Dryden had a long-standing poetic feud. He describes Buckingham as an unstable man, constantly fleeting from one hobby to another, squandering his money on numerous hangers-on. But he is too volatile to be of any use, “wicked by in will, of means bereft” and doesn’t play a role in Achitophel’s plot.

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