Home  »  Volume VIII: English THE AGE OF DRYDEN  »  § 24. Absalom and Achitophel, Part II

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

I. Dryden

§ 24. Absalom and Achitophel, Part II

This cycle of Dryden’s writings is completed by his share in the Second Part of Absalom and Achitophel, published in November, 1682, a few weeks after Mac Flecknoe, and in the same month as Religio Laici. Dryden could therefore hardly have had time for extensive collaboration with Nahum Tate, a painstaking and talented writer who, with enduring success, adapted King Lear and took part in a version of the Psalms with Nicholas Brady, and who, in his turn, was poet laureate (from 1692 to 1715). Tate, who had the gift of being able to accommodate himself to diverse styles, not unskilfully copied Dryden’s—here and there taking over lines bodily from part I; but it is clear that, apart from the characters of Doeg and Og (Settle and Shadwell) and the powerful lines preceding them, which include the denunciation of Judas (Robert Ferguson “the Plotter”), the masterhand added not a few touches, from the opening couplet onwards. Elkanah Settle, whose reputation was greater in his own day than it has been with posterity, had invited the lash by a long reply to Absalom and Achitophel entitled Absalom Senior, or Achitophel Transpros’d, in which others are said to have assisted him. The characters of the two lampooners remain the non plus ultra of haughty satirical contempt. Instead of the wary assailant of political and social leaders like Achitophel and Zimri, we are now confronted by the writer of genius spurning, with ruthless scorn, the brotherhood in letters of a Doeg or an Og; what is best and strongest in the satirist seems now up in arms.