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"MURTHER, BY A SPECIOUS NAME": ABSALOMAND ACHITOPHEVS POETICS OF SACRIFICIAL SURROGACY Gary Ernst Roger's State University d; ,uring the late 1670's and early '80s, English political satirists 'participated in the endeavors of the rival factions, Dissenter or Whig and Royalist or Tory, to effect judicial violence. While juries condemned and the hangman executed Catholics as traitors during the Popish Plot persecution, John Oldham suggests in the "Prologue' to his Satires upon the Jesuits that he writes to stoke the mass hatred fueling the slayings (2: 19-22). Such animosity powered this initial Dissenter effort to exclude Charles II's Catholic brother, James Stuart, Duke ofYork, from the throne, and left more than two hundred dead.' And Dryden's vituperative response to the striking of a medal to celebrate the grand jury's dismissal of high treason charges against Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, The Medall (pointedly subtitledA Satire againstSedition) seems to have a clear purpose of inciting Royalists to redouble their efforts to dispatch the opposition leadertothe gallows.2 Judicial slayings ofthis kind are perhaps not surprising in these years ofcrisis and fear. Dissenters like Oldham believed that English Catholics plotted to assassinate Charles, put James on the throne, martyr Protestants with the help of foreign Catholic armies, and destroy both the Protestantfaith and English culture itself; Royalists, on the other hand, saw as ever-looming Dissenter insurrection and another catastrophic civil war to take away their property, power, and perhaps the ' For studies ofthe Plot in this political context, see Miller 169-82; Jones 197-217; Greaves 5-32, and Kenyon's complete volume. 2 Harth studies The Medall as an example of Tory propaganda against the Whigs and supportive of Royal efforts to deliver the earl to the gallows (161-9). 62Gary Ernst life ofthe king.3 Duringthe bloodshed ushering in the two party system, the fatal goals ofsatirists seem quite realistic—and indeed may have been so. Thejudicial persecution ofCatholics consumed victims until the fervorthat Oldham labors to feed burnt out; and, in November 1682, eight months after The Medall found its first audience, Shaftesbury, accused by the crown of new treasons, went into hiding soon to flee England in mortal terror of successful Royalist prosecution. The greatest political satire of this turbulent period, Absalom and Achitophel, responds directly to the recent efforts of Charles's beloved, eldest natural son, the Protestant James Scott, Duke of Monmouth—now "Fir'd with near possession of a Crown " (684)—to displace York in the line of succession. The satire revolves around a depiction ofMonmouth's "War in Masquerade," his recenttour through the west ofEngland to gauge and gain support (682-725). Despite the factthatthe satire clearly posits the threat of national catastrophe, it hardly seems at first as intent upon the death ofthis target as either The Medall or Oldham's Satires seem oftheirs. But, to be sure, it is, although Dryden—committed firstly to York and secondly to king4—carefully conceals both his methods and his intentions against Charles's son. For the purpose ofleading his audience to imitate his attack and carry it from the printed page into the world of action and the courts, he conceives apoetics ofsacrifice that screens his hostilities toward Monmouth from the eyes ofthe very persons he undertakes to mobilized. By appropriating for his satire the cultural phenomenon defined by René Girard as the "scapegoat" or "sacrificial mechanism,"5 Dryden arouses and 3 According to Kenyon, in late 1678, the Commons' inflammatory speeches and addresses to the king gave the impression in the House of Lords that the members of the Commons "seemed intent on fighting the Civil Wars all over again" (129) 4 For a fuller discussion ofDryden's commitmentto York, see McFadden 91, 111 -202; Winn 243-75, and Erskine-Hill 22-5. Daly argues that Mac Flecknoe, written some three years before the beginning ofthe Exclusion Crisis of 1679-81, is an oblique but sustained attack upon Monmouth, a result ofthe laureate's concerns about the king's bestowals ofpower upon Monmouth and the possibility ofthe bastard's eventual succession (655-76). For another discussion that focuses upon Dryden's targeting ofMonmouth m Absalom and Achitophel...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1930-1200
Print ISSN
1075-7201
Pages
pp. 61-82
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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