In “Absalom and Achitophel,” the crown is symbolic of David’s power as the third king of Israel, but beyond that, it also represents David’s divine right, bestowed upon him by God, to reign over the Jews. When Achitophel, David’s deceitful counselor, encourages David’s son Absalom to seize his father’s crown, Absalom initially argues that he has no claim to the crown. After David’s death, the crown will move down a “collateral line” to David’s brother, who has an equal claim to the power. As Absalom’s desire for power grows, he disregards the lawful and divine order of royal succession, and moves to take his father’s crown anyway. David is ultimately forced to assert his divine power and possession of the crown in a public speech, and the rebellion of Absalom and Achitophel—and the people’s support of their rebellion—is silenced by a roar of thunder, presumably sent by God. With this, the Jews are effectively reminded of David’s supreme power and God-given right to the crown.
As “Absalom and Achitophel” is a biblical allegory, the crown also carries another layer of significance. Through the quarrels over David’s crown—and, by extension, his God-given right to rule—Dryden attempts to remind his fellow Englishmen of King Charles II’s own power and divine right to the crown. As Dryden’s poem is an allegory for the political events of his own time, he implies that King Charles and his brother, James, both have an equal and divine right to the crown of England, and that this right does not extend to Charles’s illegitimate son, the 1st Duke of Monmouth, who, like Absalom, attempted to seize his father’s crown.
The Crown Quotes in Absalom and Achitophel
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.
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.
Why should I then repine at heaven’s decree,
Which gives me no pretence to royalty?
Yet oh, that fate, propitiously inclined,
Had raised my birth or had debased my mind;
To my large soul not all her treasure lent
And then betrayed it to a mean descent.
I find, I find my mounting spirits bold,
And David’s part disdains my mother’s mould.
Why am I scanted by a niggard birth?
My soul disclaims the kindred of her earth
And, made for empire, whispers me within:
“Desire of greatness is a godlike sin.”