The father and son motif in Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel

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Absent the father-son motif, there would be little of the allegorical power which permeates Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel. To be sure, the father-son motive is consistently interwoven throughout the text as an essential unifying pattern. One cannot understand the meaning of the poem without pausing to consider the figurative meaning accorded to specific relationships, and the consequences of those figurative meanings.


Ironically, the way in which this motif permeates the poem gives rise to nearly all of the stages of the story. This essay will argue that the father-son motif in Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel demonstrates the implicit vulnerability of all patriarchal relationships; more particularly, this essay will explain how Dryden employs the father-son motif in order to highlight the danger of a patriarch loving uncritically, the danger of a patriarch offering mercy and restraint to enemies, and the painful burdens that patriarchal figures must endure if they are to survive in such a role.
The poem begins almost as an apology; it is apologetic because patriarchs and fathers are forgiven in advance for the miseries to be encountered in the current age. This reference to simpler times is introduced in the first few lines, when Dryden offers that, "In pious times, ere priestcraft did begin, Before polygamy was made a sin; When 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;" (1-6). ...
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