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Critical appreciation of “The False Achitophel”

Critical appreciation

Critical appreciation of “The False Achitophel”

“The False Achitophel” is an extract from John Dryden’s famous verse, satire, Absalom and Achitophel part 1 published in 1681.

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Abaslom and Achitophel deals with the political scenario of England in the late 1670’s and the early 1680’s. The protestant whigs were agitating to exclude from succession to the throne Charles It’s heir and brother James on the grounds that he was a Roman Catholic and they encouraged Charle’s illegitimate son, the Duke of Manmouth to assert his claims. This agitation was led by the Earl of Shaftesbury and the Duke of Buckingham. Their action reminded Drydon of the biblical story of David. Abasolom and Achitophel Achitophel was counsellor to David, king of Judah and Israel from 1000-962-B.C. He later turned fraitor and incited Absalom, one of King’s numerous bastards to rebel against his father. Absalom rebelled and forced his father to abandon his capital city.

Drydon applied this biblical story to the contemporary situation with Charles II as king David, Shatesbury as Achitophel and Monmouth as Abaslom. The English Achitophel is designated as the ‘false Achitophel’ in order to distinguish him from his biblical namesake.

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“The False Achitophel” gives the satiric portrayal of Anthony Ashley Cooper (1621-83), the first Earl of Shaftesbury.

Shaftesbury had been a member of Cromwell’s council of state. Cromwell had taught against the king’s father. Charles I, and executed him. Yet Charles II pardoned Shaftesbury and showered favours on him. Shaftesbury was, thus, the most teacherous and ungrateful man. He was unetable and fickle minded. He was intelligent and daring but he was given to secret scheming and cunning advice. His overactive mind taxed his small body so much that it became sickly. He took all this trouble for his young son who was no better than a two legged animal with an ugly body.

He was a crooked and decciful man. He was determined either to ruin his country or to rule it according to his will. In order to achieve his aim he violated the triple alliance of England, Holland and Sweden against France by instigating war against Holland and thus put the peace and security of his country in jeopardy. Then realizing the damage he had done, he proclaimed to all that he was a lover of the nation.

Though the passage in about a person, yet it is interpersed with general comments. Satirizing the public opinion the poet says people forgive all sorts of misdeeds committed in the name of patriotism very often people see their own weaknesses reflected in their evil leaders.

Though the passage is satirical, it is not harsh. Dryden reveals a degree of fair mindedness rarely found in other satirists such as Pope and Swift. Focusing on the merits of Shaftesbury the poet says that he is a judge had norval in England. He was fair, honest and wise.

Finally, the poet feels sorry for Shaftesbury. He says that if this man had remained contented with his role of a judge and if he had not polluted his noble with evil designs, the king would have given him the highest praise.

The passage has many movements but it is unified by the portrayal of Shaftesbury throughout. To distance himself the poet has used the pats tense. The use of interrogative and exclamations has made the passage lively. It is more witty than imaginative. The intellectual devices of parallelism, contrast, intrence and argument have been amply used. The figures of speech live metonymy and synecdoche have been employed. The passage abounds in pejorative words. The metre used in the heroic couplet. It consists of two lines of iambic pentameter rhyming together. The style is epigrammatic. To conclude this passage serves as a very good example of a mock heroic poem.

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