Absalom and Achitophel Summary

Absalom and Achitophel Summary

In Absalom and Achitophel, the leader of the group of antagonists to King David (Charles II) is Achitophel (Anthony Ashley Cooper), the first Earl of Shaftesbury. Achitophel exploited the anti-Catholicism created by the Popish Plot, and placed his support behind the Exclusion Bill, which would prevent James from succeeding his brother Charles to the throne. Achitophel selects Absalom (King Charles' illegitimate son) as the fittest candidate for kingship.

With studied flattery and art, Achitophel begins a long temptation speech to seduce Absalom to this rebellious cause. Absalom is told that the country anxiously desires him to become King. King Charles has lost popular support since the promulgation of the Popish Plot. Besides, the King has no allies anymore, and Egypt (France) would help Absalom win the throne. Absalom has not only royal blood but the complete support of the people. He thus would be a much more powerful ruler than a King by succession (James, for example).

Absalom has been made drunk by flattery and his ambition has been kindled. He, however, defends his father in generous terms. David, he believes, is a good King, and has also been personally good to him. Hence he should not turn against his father. He points out that the crown should rightfully be given to David's brother who also possesses every royal virtue. Absalom knows that his illegitimate birth gives him no legal right to the throne, he laments and even rejects his mother for having no royal blood, and wishes he had been born higher.

At this display of momentary weakness, Achitophel renews his temptation. The throne needs someone like Absalom who has a powerful nature. King David, by contrast, has become weak and gives the people more than they need. Achitophel assures that he has carefully weakened the nation's willingness to accept either Charles or James, then it is their right to select their own King. Further, James watches Absalom's popularity with much suspicion and envy, so that, if James assumes power, he will seek to eliminate Absalom. Therefore, Absalom should exercise the right of self-defense.

Achitophel advises Absalom to take up arms in apparent defense of King David, and to accuse James of plotting to murder the King. Thus Absalom will be able to force David to grant him succession to the throne. And it is probable, Achitophel argues, that David wants to do this, but wishes to be pressured into it. In this matter, the King is like a woman who appears to resist a man's advances, but secretly wishes to be taken. Achitophel urges Absalom to "commit a pleasing rape upon the crown", This final argument convinces Absalom who again regrets that his illegitimate birth has debarred him from the throne. This brings to a close Achitophel's temptation of Absalom. The gullible youth is by now fully beguiled to the prospect of the crown into becoming the tool of a malevolent counselor as the popular Protestant contender for the throne.

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