A Full Note Of Dryden’s Art Of Characterisation

Dryden has shown superb talent for character-portrayal in “Absalom and Achitophel.” Through the allegory of David and Saul, he has drawn full- fledged characters of most of the political figures of his time. He paints satirical portraits of all parties concerned and scolds here and praises there in magnificent verse according to his political learnings.


The most important and most satirically drawn character is that of Shaftesbury. Achitophel allegorically stands for Earl of Shaftesbury He is dissatisfied with Charles II and he is his arch enemy. In this poem he figures in one-fourth of total space. A critic has rightly observed, “His portrait is mainly a attack in the heroic high style. He is essentially wicked, violent, and changeable. The following lines from ‘Absalom and Achitophel give us a graphic description of Shaftesbury’s character; of these the false Achitophel was first:

“A name to Ali succeeding ages crust:

For close designs and crooked counsels fit,

Sagacious, bold, and turbulent of wit,

Restless, unfixed in principles and place…

As the above couplets show, Shaftesbury was a very intriguing and e treacherous person. Hence Dryden believes that his name will be cursed in t coming generations. He is shown as being quite fierce in his temperament. Het was a short-statured man with excessive mental energy. During times of unrest s and agitation, he became a natural leader of men, because he loved danger for k its own sake; but in peaceful times, he was quite ineffective and useless. He a was not gifted with administrative skill or talent. Although he was quite wealthy and reputed, yet he worked very hard in old age. He never gave his frail body very revengeful nature. He himself was not qualified to be at the head of administration yet he had destructive nature. He could topple any administration. He broke the triple alliance of England whereby he made the position of England quite unsafe. He professed what he never practised. His physical and moral qualities have been brought out in the following couplets:

“A fiery soul, which, working out its way

Fretted the pigmy body to decay

And all to leave, what with his toil he won

To that unfeathered, two-legged thing, a son

Got, while his soul did huddled notions try.

And born a shapeless lump, like anarchy.”

A very eminent critic Dr. Ian Jack has given us a very faithful portraiture of Achitophel (Shaftesbury):

“Like the royal party. Shaftesbury and his followers are introduced as characters in a heroic poem with the possible exception of the cruel couplet. About his son there is no trace of the low style in the description of Achitophel, as my be seen by comparing it with Pope‘s Spurns.”



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