Absalom and Achitophel

by

John Dryden

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The Popish Plot Term Analysis

A conspiracy engineered by Titus Oates between 1678 and 1681 in England, in which he maintained that a Catholic conspiracy to assassinate King Charles II was underway. The Popish Plot was a farce, and no evidence was ever found to support it, but it resulted in the execution of 22 innocent people and led directly to the Exclusion Crisis. Dryden allegorizes the Popish Plot in “Absalom and Achitophel” as the “plot,” advanced by Achitophel and created by Corah, to discredit David and his brother and place Absalom on the throne. Through his poem, Dryden implies that the Popish Plot lacked “common sense,” and he implores the people of England to see it for what it is: a sham concocted to drum up anti-Catholic sentiment and unfairly keep James II from ascending the throne.

The Popish Plot Quotes in Absalom and Achitophel

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

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:

From hence began that plot, the nation’s curse,
Bad in itself but represented worse,
Raised in extremes and in extremes decried;
With oaths affirmed, with dying vows denied.
Not weighed or winnowed by the multitude
But swallowed in the mass, unchewed and crude.
Some truth there was, but dashed and brewed with lies
To please the fools and puzzle all the wise.

Related Characters: David, Corah
Page Number: 117
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:

Ours was a Levite, and, as times went then,
His tribe were God Almighty’s gentlemen.
Sunk were his eyes; his voice was harsh and loud:
Sure signs he neither choleric was, nor proud;
His long chin proved his wit; his saintlike grace
A church vermilion, and a Moses’ face;
His memory, miraculously great,
Could plots exceeding man’s belief repeat,
Which therefore cannot be accounted lies,
For human wit could never such devise.
Some future truths are mingled in his book
But, where the witness failed, the prophet spoke:
Some things like visionary flights appear;
The spirit caught him up, the Lord knows where,
And gave him his rabbinical degree Unknown to foreign university.

Related Characters: Achitophel, Corah
Page Number: 131
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Popish Plot Term Timeline in Absalom and Achitophel

The timeline below shows where the term The Popish Plot 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
Then begins the “plot, the nation’s curse, / Bad in itself but represented worse.” The plot is started and... (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
God, Religion, and the Divine Right of Kings Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
...socialize with the Jews, looking for converts, in the government and even in brothels. The plot fails, because it lacks “common sense,” but it has “a deep and dangerous consequence.” The... (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
God, Religion, and the Divine Right of Kings Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
...he should. “Wild ambition loves to slide, not stand,” and Achitophel is very ambitious. The plot has produced the perfect environment for Achitophel to “shake the tree” of the body politic... (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
God, Religion, and the Divine Right of Kings Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
This “Solymæan rout” is “in treason bold,” and as they watch the plot unfold, they are not afraid to raise up Absalom as a “lawful prince” and condemn... (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
God, Religion, and the Divine Right of Kings Theme Icon
Corah’s memory is impeccable, and he can easily recall his complex plot. Thus, many fail to see his deceit. Undoubtedly, there is some truth to Corah’s plot... (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
There is very little that David can do about the plot, as he has few friends, but those friends he has are loyal. First is Barzillai,... (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
God, Religion, and the Divine Right of Kings Theme Icon
...“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 crown and of “false... (full context)
Politics, Allegory, and Satire Theme Icon
God, Religion, and the Divine Right of Kings Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
With their “plots and treason,” David’s people have tried to take his power away, but God will not... (full context)