Absalom and Achitophel


John Dryden

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The Exclusion Crisis / The Exclusion Bill Term Analysis

A political crisis that began in England in 1679. The Exclusion Crisis was prompted by the mass anti-Catholic hysteria of the Popish Plot and involved three bills which sought to exclude Roman Catholics from royal succession. Charles II’s brother and heir presumptive, James, was a Roman Catholic, and the Exclusion Bill was a serious threat to his reign. The Exclusion Bill was never passed, and the crisis officially ended in 1681, but Catholics were ultimately banned from the throne in England in 1701. Dryden’s “Absalom and Achitophel” allegorizes the Exclusion Crisis through the biblical story of David and his son Absalom, who tries to discredit David’s brother and eliminate him from royal succession. Dryden implies that the Exclusion Crisis was engineered and led by anti-Catholic extremists who attempted to exclude James II from the throne through deceptive and corrupt means, and his poem serves to expose such dishonest practices to the people of England.

The Exclusion Crisis / The Exclusion Bill Quotes in Absalom and Achitophel

The Absalom and Achitophel quotes below are all either spoken by The Exclusion Crisis / The Exclusion Bill or refer to The Exclusion Crisis / The Exclusion Bill. For each quote, you can also see the other terms 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.
To the Reader Quotes

’Tis not my intention to make an apology for my poem: some will think it needs no excuse, and others will receive none. The design, I am sure, is honest; but he who draws his pen for one party must expect to make enemies of the other. For wit and fool are consequents of Whig and Tory, and every man is a knave or an ass to the contrary side. There’s a treasury of merits in the fanatic church as well as in the papist; and a pennyworth to be had of saintship, honesty, and poetry for the lewd, the factious, and the blockheads; but the longest chapter in Deuteronomy has not curses enough for an anti- Bromingham.

Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

The true end of satire is the amendment of vices by correction. And he who writes honestly is no more an enemy to the offender than the physician to the patient when he prescribes harsh remedies to an inveterate disease, for those are only in order to prevent the surgeon’s work of an ense rescindendum, which I wish not to my very enemies. To conclude all, if the body politic have any analogy to the natural, in my weak judgement, an Act of Oblivion were as necessary in a hot, distempered state as an opiate would be in a raging fever.

Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:
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:

In friendship false, implacable in hate,
Resolved to ruin or to rule the state,
To compass this the Triple Bond he broke,
The pillars of the public safety shook,
And fitted Israel for a foreign yoke.
Then, seized with fear, yet still affecting fame,
Usurped a patriot’s all-atoning name.

Related Characters: Achitophel, David
Page Number: 119
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:

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:
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