Absalom and Achitophel Summary
With a steady and mild hand, King David rules Israel in the time before polygamy is a sin and priest-craft begins. He spreads his seed throughout the land and has many offspring, though his true wife is Michal. Of his illegitimate children, none is more glorious and beloved than Absalom. Absalom wins renown in foreign fields and is pleasing in mind and countenance. David loves him and indulges his every whim.
David’s reign does not remain peaceful, however. The Jews are capricious, tempestuous people who often throw off their ruler for a new one. They mutter and complain, but nothing comes of it while they are disunited. However, old plots are revived, stoking the Jews’ fear of the heathen Jebusites, whose land they had taken long ago. Factions stir up and begin to threaten the government.
Achitophel, a wise and witty councilor of David’s, sees this as his moment. He is restless and desirous of fame, so he decides he must find a way to ruin David. He is aware of how easily swayed the people are, and he turns to the handsome Absalom into his pawn. Achitophel compliments and charms Absalom, telling him that it is a shame his low birth seemingly precludes him from taking the throne. His father’s legal successor is Absalom’s uncle, a wretched man. Achitophel fills Absalom’s head with praise; even though Absalom loves his father, Achitophel’s subtle comments about his father’s weaknesses begin to affect him. He sees himself as destined for greatness.
Achitophel devises his plan and sends Absalom out to the people to curry their favor and turn them against his father. He warns the young man of his uncle and tells him he must try for the crown while his father still lives. Achitophel begins to work within the populace, fomenting dissent and unrest. Absalom goes before the people and wins their love easily. His popularity and pomp distract from the plot at hand.
Dryden accounts for some of the most dangerous, corrupt men in the city, as well as the small but loyal band that stays with David as the tensions mount.
Finally, King David speaks, asserting his legitimacy and power in a manner that brooks no refutation or dissension. This secures his enemies’ downfall and his own long rule.