John Dryden – “Absalom and Achitophel”

Dryden says it would be too tedious to list all the followers of Achitophel, but he singles out two of them for his special opprobrium: Shimei, who in the original biblical text cursed David and threw stones at him, and whose name in Dryden’s story stands for one Slingsby Bethel (that’s a rather fine name), one of two sheriffs of London and “virulent enemy of Charles”, as the Helpful Footnote describes him. Dryden describes him as an avaricious man “who never broke the Sabbath, but for gain”, and a miser in whose kitchen there’s no fire – as Dryden comments ironically, it’s because he wants to set a good example and protect London from another great fire. He hates the king and packs the juries with his followers who are going to acquit anybody who rebelled against him. The other guy is Corah (a name Dryden seems to have picked at random from the Old Testament, since he doesn’t appear in the Absalom’s story), or Titus Oates, a particularly loathsome individual whose false testimony sent several people to the block. Dryden describes him as red-faced and lowly born, Similarly to the previous man, his description is very ironic, pretending to praise him while in fact he condemns him. His memory is quite marvellous because he remember so many details of the alleged plots, which no human ever could make up. And of course, should anybody object to his revelations, we may be sure that this person will also be accused of being a part of the plot. His religious zeal, in the eyes of many, justifies anything he says.


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