November 8, 2017
Final Examination Essay
The poem Absalom and Achitophel by John Dryden satirizes the society and government in England. The poem is based during Biblical times but represents the state of unrest England was experiencing. The state of Israel is used to represent England and the Jewish people were the Whigs. Although the poem Absalom and Achitophel holds many characteristics of an epic poem true, it is also a work of satire that derives from the true events occurring in English society and government.
The poem was described to be an epic poem as to not openly insult any real people involved in the dispute, but to influence the final verdict on the Exclusion Bill that would not allow the Duke of York, the king’s brother, from taking the throne. Absalom and Achitophel qualify as an epic poem through unconventional means. There is a narrative with an important event that revolves around the protagonist. In this case, the protagonist, Absalom, is an anti-hero because he is swayed to betray his father, to incite a rebellion, to seize control of the throne. Considering the author’s personal political views as a Tory supporter he portrayed the protagonist, Absalom, as an anti-hero with many bad qualities. Absalom was described to be charming and beautiful, but he also possessed negative characteristics. He was gullible, revengeful, power-hungry, and not very smart in the way he went into battle and died.
English society is satirized in John Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel. The characters in the poem are from biblical times, but based on English people from the 17th century. Although Dryden’s satire was directly against the Whigs who were followers of the Earl of Shaftesbury, Achitophel, he mentions the faults of other people. He mentions the King’s infidelities in a romanticized way. “His vigorous warmth did variously impart To wives and slaves” (Dryden 2214). King David is portrayed as a devoted person regardless of his many faults. Despite polygamy being prohibited, the king had many children with many mistresses because his wife could not bear children. The King was described as having “Promiscuous use of concubine and bride” (Dryden 2214). Dryden knew the real king would read his poem, therefore he simply mentioned this and did not portray him as a cheating, heartless, husband. Absalom is depicted as a traitor throughout the poem for betraying his father in the rebellion by Dryden because Dryden supported King Charles II. Achitophel tries to persuade Absalom, the king’s son, to lead the rebellion against the king, “as champion of the public good” (Dryden, 290). He then tells Absalom that, “He (the king) fears his brother, though he loves his son,” (Dryden 2224) when in reality the king did not want to legitimize Absalom.
The idea of retelling the story of Absalom rebelling against his father was not an original one. It had been published in many other literary works, but none were meant to parallel the current political situation they were experiencing. The government of England was in turmoil over the succession because two people who wanted the title were the king’s brother and the king’s son, born out of wedlock. Similarly, in the poem, Israel does not have a successor to the throne, but two likely opponents. Absalom the son of the king and the king’s brother. The laws that require a successor to the throne being a child of both the king and queen impeded Absalom and the Duke of Monmouth, to be rightful heirs to the throne. As Absalom prepares to join a rebellion against his father to be heir to the throne, he realizes, “To mean rebellion, and make treason law” (Dryden 2227). The author tries to take the blame away from the son and place it on Achitophel because Achitophel manipulated Absalom and he was too gullible to realize that. Shaftesbury, Achitophel, was portrayed as a person worse than Absalom because Achitophel was not indicted for his crimes of treason and the King continued to love his son. It seems that the people in power in government were so absorbed in finding an heir they did not focus much on the citizens. The rebellion by the Jewish people introduced the plot, but it did show the effect the rebellion had on most of the people, but Dryden mentions, “If not; the people have a right supreme To make their kings; for kings are made for them” (Dryden 2222). In other words, people should not fear the government because the people are the reason systems of government were created. The people have the power to destroy the current government and change it to something that helps them more.
The satire in the poem is used to convey the lengths people will go to in order to fulfill their selfish fantasies for power. Although the fates both the characters in the poem and the real-life people end in tragedy, Dryden conveys his satire by making the literary work an epic poem to expose British society and government.
The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL. D biography by James Boswell is often credited as one of the greatest biographical works. The biography was published after the death of Johnson in 1784. The biography is considered one of the best because the author, James Boswell, knew Samuel Johnson for many years and had a close friendship with him, Boswell worked hard to find out more about Johnson, and the audience can know Johnson’s opinions on different subjects.
One of the reasons why it is so ground-breaking a spectacular is because Johnson knew Boswell for many years and were close friends. “As I had the honor and happiness of enjoying his friendship for upward of twenty years” (Boswell 1962). The pair met in 1763 and their friendship lasted many years until Johnson passed away. As his friend, Boswell also had access to many of Johnson’s friends who could give him more details and he knew Johnson kept “many particulars of the progress of his mind and fortunes” (Boswell 1962) that allowed for a personal description of Johnson by Johnson.
Thanks to Boswell’s success in capturing the true essence of Johnson in print the world now knows more about Johnson than most literary experts at the time. Boswell was the perfect person to write the biography because had a particularly impressive memory. He kept journals of daily conversations with Johnson in preparation for the biography. If some days he did not write in the journal he would remember it for days and write it when he could. He had tenacity when it came to uncovering and collecting more information, even asking Johnson personal questions. “By communicating to me the incidents of his early years,” (Boswell 2962) Boswell could better express in words the childhood Boswell had growing up. Boswell was fearless in that he would do anything to find more “materials concerning him” (Boswell 2962) to complete the biography. Boswell stated he, “spared no pains in cover that they were to be found” (Boswell 2962). When he did find more about Johnson he “was very assiduous in recording” to make sure no information was lost (Boswell 2962). Boswell was aware the biography gave a full outlook on The Life of Samuel Johnson, that he said, “he will be seen in this work more completely than any man who has ever lived” (Boswell 2963) and that all that was written “will be seen as he really was” (Boswell 2963).
The biography is so well-known around the world because it gave a clear picture of Johnson’s opinions on varying subjects. Johnson lived in London for many years, and he particularly liked it because when he talked about his life in London he said, “there is more learning and science within the circumference of ten miles from where we now sit, than in all the rest of the kingdom” (Boswell 2979). He defined British society as, “he who is rich in a civilized society, must be happier than he who is poor” (Boswell 2972). This shows how the effect on him leading a privileged life and earning a pension had on him. When Johnson knew he was about to die he prayed to God “that however he might afflict my body, he would spare my understanding” (Boswell 2988) because he wanted to “try the integrity of my facilities” (Boswell 2989). As an intellectual he did not want to spend his last living moments disorientated, he wanted to keep the integrity he had.
Boswell stated his goal with writing this biography was to “make (his) readers more acquainted with him than even most of those who actually knew him” (Boswell 2963). He successfully completed this goal and is remembered as publishing one of the best biographies. The evidence is students, hundreds of years later are writing about his work. The detail James Boswell included in the biography is why it is so highly talked about. The work received extreme praise because Boswell’s relationship with Samuel Johnson spanned many years, the close friendship allowed Boswell to work diligently to find out more about Johnson, and the audience could easily know Johnson’s criticisms and opinions not expressed in his work.