Absalom and Achitophel


John Dryden

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David’s Brother Character Analysis

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, and Achitophel does not want David’s brother to ascend the throne and hopes to place Absalom there instead. Achitophel hates David’s brother, and Absalom claims that David’s brother is “oppressed with vulgar spite.” David’s brother represents James II, the brother of King Charles II and the next heir to the throne of England. James was a Roman Catholic, and the Exclusion Bill before Parliament in Dryden’s time sought to exclude James from the throne. In “Absalom and Achitophel,” Dryden implies that David’s brother has a divine right to the throne, that he was bestowed the right to rule by God, and Dryden likewise implies that James II has a right to rule over England as well.

David’s Brother Quotes in Absalom and Achitophel

The Absalom and Achitophel quotes below are all either spoken by David’s Brother or refer to David’s Brother. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of Absalom and Achitophel published in 2001.
Absalom and Achitophel Quotes

But when to sin our biased nature leans,
The careful devil is still at hand with means
And providently pimps for ill desires:
The Good Old Cause revived a plot requires.
Plots, true or false, are necessary things
To raise up commonwealths and ruin kings.

Related Characters: Absalom, David, David’s Brother
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

This plot, which failed for want of common sense,
Had yet a deep and dangerous consequence,
For as, when raging fevers boil the blood,
The standing lake soon floats into a flood,
And every hostile humour, which before
Slept quiet in its channels, bubbles o’er,
So several factions from this first ferment
Work up to foam, and threat the government.

Related Characters: David, David’s Brother, Corah
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

By buzzing emissaries fills the ears
Of list’ning crowds with jealousies and fears
Of arbitrary counsels brought to light
And proves the king himself a Jebusite:
Weak arguments! which yet he knew full well
Were strong with people easy to rebel.
For, governed by the moon, the giddy Jews
Tread the same track when she the prime renews,
And once in twenty years, their scribes record,
By natural instinct they change their lord.

Related Characters: Achitophel, David, David’s Brother
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

What cannot praise effect in mighty minds
When flattery soothes and when ambition blinds!
Desire of power, on earth a vicious weed,
Yet, sprung from high, is of celestial seed:
In God ’tis glory, and when men aspire,
’Tis but a spark too much of heavenly fire.
Th’ ambitious youth, too covetous of fame
Too full of angel’s metal in his frame,
Unwarily was led from virtue’s ways,
Made drunk with honour, and debauched with praise.

Related Characters: Absalom, Achitophel, David, David’s Brother
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

What more can I expect while David lives?
All but his kingly diadem he gives,
And that,’ but there he paused, then sighing said,
‘Is justly destined for a worthier head.
For when my father from his toils shall rest
And late augment the number of the blest,
His lawful issue shall the throne ascend,
Or the collateral line where that shall end.
His brother, though oppressed with vulgar spite,
Yet, dauntless and secure of native right,
Of every royal virtue stands possessed,
Still dear to all the bravest and the best.

Related Characters: Absalom (speaker), Achitophel, David, David’s Brother
Related Symbols: The Crown
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

But when should people strive their bonds to break
If not when kings are negligent or weak?
Let him give on till he can give no more;
The thrifty Sanhedrin shall keep him poor,
And every shekel which he can receive
Shall cost a limb of his prerogative.
To ply him with new plots shall be my care,
Or plunge him deep in some expensive war,
Which, when his treasure can no more supply,
He must with the remains of kingship buy.
His faithful friends our jealousies and fears
Call Jebusites and Pharaoh’s pensioners,
Whom, when our fury from his aid has torn,
He shall be naked left to public scorn.

Related Characters: Achitophel (speaker), Absalom, David, David’s Brother
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

Religion and redress of grievances,
Two names that always cheat and always please,
Are often urged, and good King David’s life
Endangered by a brother and a wife.
Thus, in a pageant show, a plot is made,
And peace itself is war in masquerade.
O foolish Israel! never warned by ill,
Still the same bait and circumvented still!

Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:
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David’s Brother Character Timeline in Absalom and Achitophel

The timeline below shows where the character David’s Brother appears in Absalom and Achitophel. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Absalom and Achitophel
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
God, Religion, and the Divine Right of Kings Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
...Absalom says to Achitophel, the crown will be passed down a “collateral line” to David’s brother. David’s brother may be “oppressed with vulgar spite,” Absalom says, but the crown is still... (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
God, Religion, and the Divine Right of Kings Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
Achitophel confesses that he hates David’s brother, and the strife and dissention Achitophel has planted among the Jews has made them hate... (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
God, Religion, and the Divine Right of Kings Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
It is better for the Jews if David’s brother does not ascend the throne, Achitophel tells Absalom, and the Jews know how powerful they... (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
David’s brother already looks at Absalom with jealousy, Achitophel warns, and he will try to turn the... (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
...pass him the crown, so Absalom decides there can be nothing wrong with removing David’s brother from the line of succession and winning the love of the people. (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
To ensure that David’s brother is removed from the line of succession, Achitophel begins to join all the disgruntled Jews... (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
God, Religion, and the Divine Right of Kings Theme Icon
...their prince.” Soon, rumors begin to spread that David’s life has been threatened by his brother and Michal. (full context)