Absalom and Achitophel

by

John Dryden

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The Crown Symbol Analysis

The Crown Symbol Icon

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 Absalom and Achitophel quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Crown. 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:

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:

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.”

Related Characters: Absalom (speaker), Achitophel, David
Related Symbols: The Crown
Page Number: 123-124
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Absalom and Achitophel LitChart as a printable PDF.
Absalom and Achitophel PDF

The Crown Symbol Timeline in Absalom and Achitophel

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Crown 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
...no reason to challenge his father. Furthermore, David gives Absalom everything he wants, except the crown, and he has already told Absalom he would give him that, too, if he could.... (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
God, Religion, and the Divine Right of Kings Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
After David’s death, Absalom says to Achitophel, the crown will be passed down a “collateral line” to David’s brother. David’s brother may be “oppressed... (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
...Absalom is not yet convinced that he should assert his royal blood and claim the crown, so Achitophel steps up his flattery. God has endowed Absalom with great virtue, Achitophel says,... (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
...throne, his “rebellion may be thought a crime.” No, Achitophel insists, Absalom must secure the crown while David still lives. (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
Absalom should not tell David of his ambition for the crown just yet, Achitophel recommends, but he should offer to take up arms in his father’s... (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
Achitophel’s words are hard for Absalom to hear. Absalom may desire David’s crown, but Absalom is neither cruel nor boastful. He only wishes he had not been born... (full context)
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
...men like Achitophel’s, Absalom turns his back on court. He has “high hopes” for the crown, and he is urged on by his popularity. Hiding his happiness, Absalom moves among the... (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
God, Religion, and the Divine Right of Kings Theme Icon
...strip David of his “regal rights” and attempt to disrupt the “true succession” of the crown by entertaining “the plot.” David’s men soon inform him of Absalom’s plan to secure the... (full context)