Absalom and Achitophel


John Dryden

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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. In the Bible, Saul favors David over his son Ishbosheth, and David is forced to go into exile. After Saul dies and Ishbosheth is made king, the Jews are again unhappy with their king and choose David. Saul represents Oliver Cromwell, who ruled the Commonwealth of England after Charles I was executed. Like Ishbosheth taking over from Saul and then being replaced by David, Cromwell’s son reigned for a while after Cromwell’s death before Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660. Through Saul and his association to Cromwell, Dryden implies that the English are never quite happy with their king and will find any reason to denounce one and appoint another.

Saul Quotes in Absalom and Achitophel

The Absalom and Achitophel quotes below are all either spoken by Saul or refer to Saul. 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

The Jews, a headstrong, moody, murmuring race
As ever tried th’ extent and stretch of grace,
God’s pampered people, whom, debauched with ease,
No king could govern nor no god could please
(Gods they had tried of every shape and size
That god-smiths could produce, or priests devise),
These Adam-wits, too fortunately free,
Began to dream they wanted liberty;
And when no rule, no precedent was found
Of men by laws less circumscribed and bound,
They led their wild desires to woods and caves,
And thought that all but savages were slaves.
They who, when Saul was dead, without a blow
Made foolish Ishbosheth the crown forgo,
Who banished David did from Hebron bring
And, with a general shout, proclaimed him king.

Related Characters: David, Saul, Ishbosheth
Related Symbols: The Crown
Page Number: 115-116
Explanation and Analysis:
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Saul Character Timeline in Absalom and Achitophel

The timeline below shows where the character Saul 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
...liberty, and they will go to great lengths to get it. After the death of Saul, for example, Ishbosheth was king. But it wasn’t long before the people brought David back... (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
God, Religion, and the Divine Right of Kings Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
...tells Absalom, and the Jews know how powerful they are. After all, they did choose Saul as their king and oust God. Achitophel urges Absalom to seize his blood right and... (full context)