Absalom and Achitophel


John Dryden

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Absalom and Achitophel can help.

Absalom and Achitophel Characters


David’s illegitimate son and the protagonist of “Absalom and Achitophel.” David does not have any legitimate heirs to the throne, but Absalom is his favorite child. Absalom is handsome and ambitious, and he has… read analysis of Absalom


A deceitful counselor to King David and the antagonist of “Absalom and Achitophel.” Of all the men who oppose David within the government, Achitophel is the most influential. He is smart, ambitious, and morally flexible… read analysis of Achitophel


The third king of Israel. David is a merciful and kind king who does not have a male heir to inherit the throne. As such, the crown will ascend down a “collateral line” after… read analysis of David


The first king of Israel. According to Dryden, God was the first king of Israel, but the Jews, who are “moody” and frequently unhappy with their king, oust God and make Saul their king… read analysis of Saul

David’s Brother

The heir presumptive of Israel. David’s brother never actually makes it into the poem, but Achitophel and Absalom refer to him multiple times. The crown will go to David’s brother after David dies… read analysis of David’s Brother
Get the entire Absalom and Achitophel LitChart as a printable PDF.
Absalom and Achitophel PDF


The most important of Achitophel’s men. Corah is a priest, although he lies about his rabbinical degree, and he hatches the plot that helps Achitophel discredit David’s brother and ingratiate Absalom to the people… read analysis of Corah


The most powerful of Achitophel’s men. Shimei is a dishonest crook who steals and cheats the Jews every chance he gets, but the Jews appoint him as their magistrate anyway. Shimei stacks juries to… read analysis of Shimei


One of Achitophel’s men whom Dryden describes as a “buffoon” who has tried several professions. In the Bible, Zimri is king of Israel for seven days, but he is no real threat to Davidread analysis of Zimri

The Pharaoh

The leader of Egypt and David’s ally. Like many of the Jews, however, the Pharaoh only pretends to be friendly with David but is really just looking for ways to exploit him and… read analysis of The Pharaoh


Saul’s son and the king of Israel briefly before David’s reign. Dryden mentions Ishbosheth’s short reign before David comes out of exile, but the finicky Jews don’t want Ishbosheth as their king, so… read analysis of Ishbosheth


One of Achitophel’s more powerful men who has the ability to manipulate laws. Jonas is a prophet in the Bible, but in Dryden’s poem he represents Sir William Jones, a member of Parliament who… read analysis of Jonas


David’s oldest and most trusted friend. Barzillai was with David when David was in exile after the death of Saul. He likely represents James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond, who was likewise in… read analysis of Barzillai

Barzillai’s Eldest Son

The son of one of David’s trusted men, who has died and is forever mourned by the speaker of “Absalom and Achitophel.” Barzillai’s eldest son likely represents Thomas Butler, Earl of Ossory. Butler was… read analysis of Barzillai’s Eldest Son


One of David’s trusted men. According to the Bible, Jotham is the king of Judah and the grandson of Zadock, but in Dryden’s poem he represents George Savile, the nephew of the 1st… read analysis of Jotham


One of King David’s trusted and loyal men. Amiel is an important member of the Sanhedrin and helps to quell the uprising against David within the government. There are several Amiels in the Bible… read analysis of Amiel
Minor Characters
One of Achitophel’s men. Balaam is a prophet in the Bible, and in “Absalom and Achitophel” he represents Theophilus Hastings, a Member of Parliament and proponent of the Exclusion Bill.
One of Achitophel’s men. Caleb is a spy in the Bible, and in Dryden’s poem he represents Arthur Capel, Earl of Essex, a prominent advocate of the Exclusion Bill.
One of Achitophel’s men. In the Bible, Nadab disobeys God and is consumed by fire. In “Absalom and Achitophel,” he represents William, Lord Howard Esrick, a Puritan preacher who supported the Exclusion Bill.
One of David’s trusted men. According to the Bible, Zadock is the High Priest of Israel, and in Dryden’s poem he represents William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury, a supporter of Charles II.
Sagan of Jerusalem
One of David’s loyal men. In the Book of Samuel, Sagan of Jerusalem is a priest, but in “Absalom and Achitophel” he represents Henry Compton, Bishop of London and supporter of Charles II.
Another of David’s trusted men. In the Bible, Adriel is a nobleman in Israel and another of Barzillai’s sons. In “Absalom and Achitophel,” Adriel most likely represents John Sheffield, 3rd Earl of Mulgrave, who opposed Monmouth’s succession to the crown and supported James II.
One of David’s loyal supporters. In the Bible, Hushai is David’s friend who agrees to spy on Absalom during his rebellion. Here, Hushai represents Lawrence Hyde, Earl of Rochester, who fought against the Exclusion Bill in Parliament.
Absalom’s half-brother whom Absalom murders after he rapes Absalom’s sister. David forgives Absalom for the murder of Amnon, which is proof of David’s, thus Charles II’s, mercy and forgiving nature.
Michal / David’s Wife
The Queen of Israel. Michal is also the daughter of Saul, and she and David have no children. She represents Charles II’s wife, Catherine of Braganza; like David and Michal, Charles and Catherine did not have children.
Absalom’s wife. She represents the Duke of Monmouth’s wife, Anne, Countess of Buccleuch.