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Example research essay topic: Absalom And Achitophel – 1,422 words Essay

As related to Absalom and Achitophel Absalom and
Achitophel begins in the world of Old Testament
history. The vague biblical past of the opening
lines lets the narrative to be set from 2 Samuel
in a wide historical frame that hopes to
legitimize the king’s promiscuity by associating
the king as father of the land: In pious times,
e’r priestcraft did begin, When one man on many
multiplied his kind, Ere one to one was cursedly
confined; When nature prompted and no law denied
Promiscuous use of concubine and bride; Then
Israel’s monarch after Heaven’s own heart, His
vigorous warmth did variously impart To wives and
slaves; and, wide as his command, Scattered his
Maker’s image through the land. (l. 1-10) The
association between God and David is made through
the clever comparison of divine and human
fertility. There is some irony in seeing God’s
abundant creation reflected in the king’s sexual
extravagances, but the irony doesn’t reduce the
status of the king. It serves, at the beginning of
the poem, to separate the person of the king from
the office of the king.

The opening scenes
emphasize David as an indulgent father, not as
head of the country. David’s pleasure in Absalom
parallels God’s attitude toward Adam in the
Garden. All of Absalom’s motions are And paradise
was opened in his face. With secret joy indulgent
David viewed His youthful image in his son
renewed: To all his wishes nothing he denied; And
made the charming Annabel his bride. (l. 29-34)
The easy going nature of Absalom, put together
with the specific reference to paradise, help
establish him as the figure from Eden that will be
seen again in the temptation.

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The characterization
of David emphasizes a combination of divine and
human paternity. Like God, David takes great joy
in his creation; like God, he supplies Absalom
with a worthwhile bride. This serious presentation
of David in his fatherly joy and indulgence, as
compared to the divine model, cannot be taken as
criticism of the king. It strengthens the casual
relationship between God and David established at
the opening of the poem. When attention is called
to indulgence or weakness in David’s character, it
is in a context that shows David’s indulgence to
be a reflection of his paternal, rather than
kingly, capacity: What faults he had (for whom
from faults if free?) His father could not, or he
would not see. (l.

35-36) The emphasis is on
David’s paternal indulgence. The initial
presentation of David and Absalom closes with a
declaration of the calm of David’s reign: Thus
praised and lived the noble youth remained, While
David, undisturbed, in Sion reigned. (l. 41-42) In
the temptation, Achitophel uses biblical language
to persuade Absalom of the kingship to which he is
destined: Auspicious prince, at whose nativity
Some royal planet ruled the southern sky; Thy
longing country’s darling and desire Their cloudy
pillar and their guardian fire: Their second
Moses, whose extended wand Divides the seas, and
shows the promised land; Whose dawning day in
every distant age Has exercised the sacred
prophet’s rage: The people’s prayer, the glad
diviners’ theme, The young men’s vision, and the
old men’s dream! Thee, savior, thee, the nation’s
vow’s confess, And, never satisfied with seeing,
bless. (l. 230-241) The use of typology in the
biblical context of the poem suggests a fine
distinction between Absalom’s response to the
temptation, and to Achitophel’s well-spoken words.
By using types to persuade Absalom of his role as
savior, Achitophel becomes an ironic Gospel
prophet, and Absalom a false messiah.

Achitophel
is not slow to offer specific examples of his
predictions. He first claims that Absalom’s
nativity was marked by some royal planet that
ruled the southern sky – a favorable omen. The
astronomical sign, which is one of the messianic
allusions of the temptation scene, is not the
correct nativity sign! The star of the real
Messiah rises in the east, not the south (Matt.
2:2, 9-11). Next, Achitophel calls Absalom the
country’s cloudy pillar, guardian fire, and second
Moses (ll. 233-35). All three are familiar
biblical signs; and the pillar and fire are
promised in Isaiah as signs of god’s renewed
presence among the Israelites (Isaiah 4:5).

The
typical signs that Achitophel mentions have
general biblical meaning and would have been
persuasive for Absalom, the biblical prince. In
convincing Absalom of his messianic role,
Achitophel portrays David as an old man with
declining powers and as a fallen Lucifer: Had thus
old David, from whose loins you spring, Not dared,
when Fortune called him, to be king, At Gath an
exile he might still remain, And heaven’s
anointing oil had been in vain. Let his successful
youth your hopes engage; But shun the example of
declining age; Behold him setting in western
skies, The shadows lengthening as the vapors rise.
He is not now, as when on Jordan’s sand The joyful
people thronged to see him land, Covering the
beach, and blackening all the strand; But, like
the Prince of Angels, from his height, Comes
tumbling downward with diminished light. (ll.
262-274) There is a great deal of irony in this,
warning of Achitophel’s deceptive persuasion.
Hoping to convince Absalom of the practicality of
a “pleasing rape upon the crown” (l 474),
Achitophel associates David’s old age with his
supposed political impotence. Achitophel attempts
to remove the kingship and the question of
secession from the authority of Heaven and the law
of God by falsifying the account of David’s return
from exile. According to Achitophel, David was
called from Gath by fortune; according to the
Bible, he was called from exile by god and
anointed by Heaven.

Achitophel’s argument makes
the sanctity of heaven dependent on the arbitrary
role of fortune’s wheel, whose prizes must be
grabbed. In the context of biblical history, that
ethic obviously contradicts the moral code and
world order implied by God’s written law. The end
of Achitophel’s description is the simile “like
the Prince of Angels,” used to epitomize David’s
decline. Achitophel chooses this image to contrast
the descending, faltering light of David’s
kingship with the rising royal planet of Absalom’s
aspirations; but the use of this simile reveals
more than the wordy resemblance. By identifying
Godlike David with Satan, Achitophel joins forces
with the devil himself as a defamer of God. As the
picture of David comes to a close, Achitophel
characterizes David’s impotance more subtly.
Asserting that David is powerless to resist
Absalom’s claim to the throne, Achitophel asks,
“What strength can he to your designs oppose, /
Naked of friends, and round beset with foes?” (l.
279-80).

The second line of the couplet alludes to
Samson and suggests the description, from Milton,
of Samson being blind among his enemies: Betray’d,
Captiv’d, and both my eyes put out, Made of my
enemies the scorn and gaze; . . . . . .

. . . . .
. .

. . . . . .

. . . . . .

. . . . . .

. . . . .
Blind among enemies, O worse than chains, Dungeon,
or beggary, or decrepit age! (Samson Agonisties
ll. 33-34, 68-69) There are two ways of reading
this allusion back into Achitophel’s portrait of
David.

The most obvious is that Achitophel
unknowingly predicts the final triumph of David as
a Samson figure who wreaks havoc on his enemies
and asserts the force of God’s law. But, in
describing David, Achitophel is also appealing to
David’s relationship to Christ, especially Christ
among enemies and false friends. That relationship
also suggests the final victory of God over Satan
and all antichrists. Moreover, David as paralleled
with Samson, given the typical relationship that
both Old Testament figures bear to Christ, plays
off nicely against David’s own reference to
Absalom as a false Samson, a pretend Messiah: If
my young Samson will pretend a call To shake the
column, let him share the fall. (l 955-56) The
couplet works in two ways, characterizing
Absalom’s revolt and messianic claim as a ‘fall’
and ironically opposing it to the true messianic
‘call’ and ‘fall’ to sacrifice and death which
Samson, as type of Christ, exemplifies. The words
of Achitophel and the drama of his temptation of
Absalom characterize the two figures and confirm
the original relationship that has been
established between David and God.

Throughout the
poem that relationship is reconfirmed by
association, by direct assertion, and by the
fallen characters’ version of what is asserted to
be the true order of things. Those reconfirmations
of David’s relationship with God – especially the
increasing emphasis on David’s kingly role – work
to transform David from private father to public
king. Once more the godlike David was restored,
And willing nations knew their lawful lord. (l.
1030-31) Bibliography:.

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