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Archimago is a sorcerer in Spenser's "Faerie Queene." His name means Arch-Image; he is continually engaged in deceitful magics, as when he makes a false Una to tempt the Red-Cross Knight into lust, and when this fails, conjures another image, of a squire, to deceive the knight into believing that Una was false to him.[1]


It is a statement by the Protestant Spenser against the extensive use of images by the Roman Catholic Church.[citation needed] It also carries the implication of "Arch Mage", "Arch Magician." Disguised as a reverend hermit, and by the help of Duessa or Deceit, he seduces the Red-Cross Knight from Una or Truth.

Book 1, Canto XII, lines 303 and 305 describe Archimago as "clokt with simpleness". Much of The Faerie Queene is allegory, reflecting the religious/historical framework of 16th century England. Thus the "cloak of simpleness" may refer to monks' garb, or more specifically to the monks themselves, whom Spenser and Protestant England did not tolerate.[citation needed] Furthermore, the iconoclastic Dissolution of the Monasteries links the monks to iconography, just like Archimago's name.[citation needed]

Archimago's Role in the Poem[edit]

(All the material in this section comes directly from pages 33–54 of an article: Harry Berger, Jr., "Archimago: Between Text and Counter-Text," Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, 43.1 (Winter 2003): 19-64.)

At the beginning of canto 2, after the "feigning dreame" and "faire-forged Spright" tell Archimago they failed to seduce Redcross, the enchanter first throws a fit and then moderates his behavior in a swerve that duplicates Redcross's swing from "fierce despight" to "sufferance wise" (1.1.50). The futility of his threats sends the mage back to "his balefull bookes," and from these he gets the idea of transforming the dream spirit into an airy semblance of what in later cantos will be the very image of our truant hero undone by the witch's wiles,

a young Squire, in loves and lusty-hed
His wanton dayes that ever loosely led, Without regard of armes and dreaded fight.

Archimago places this figure together with "that miscreated faire" in a "secret bed . . . to joy in vaine delight" (1.2.3). The deep Spenserian resonance of "vaine delight" is worth noting. The delight is vain both in the sense of worthless or idle and in the sense of errant, vitiating, and self-destructive, but it is also vain because the "lovers" are incorporeal spirits with merely spectral bodies and questionable sexes.

The Squire-spirit on which Archimago spread "a seeming body of the subtile aire" is several times called "he" (1.2.3). No pronouns mark the gender of the Lady-Spirit, but Archimago's relation to it gives a clear indication: he

made a Lady of that other Spright,
And fram'd of liquid ayre her tender partes
So lively, and so like in all mens sight,
That weaker sence it could have ravisht quight:
The maker selfe for all his wondrous witt,
Was nigh beguiled with so goodly sight:
Her all in white he clad, and over it
Cast a black stole, most like to seeme for Una fit.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . .
And that new creature borne without her dew,
Full of the makers guile, with usage sly
He taught to imitate that Lady trew,
Whose semblance she did carrie under feigned hew.

It is clear that "she" is under male instruction, and that Archimago behaves like a new Pygmalion, "transfixed by a lady of his own devising." 39 But owing to several slippery words and phrases, other things are less clear. What is it that ravishes the weaker sense, makes sight goodly, and beguiles the maker, the specter's verisimilitude or its pulchritude, its lifelikeness or its desirability? The answer is both, working together, for the triumph of this art of idolatrous construction is at once to dissemble "nature" and to replace "her" with an image that fully externalizes and gratifies erotic male fantasy. The emphasis on scopophilia and the glance at Pygmalion combine to suggest the autoerotic and misogynistic pleasures of androgenesis: a "new creature," better for being "borne" without maternal "dew," and filled instead with "the makers guile" by which the maker is "beguiled."

The new creature is false for several obvious reasons: first, because it resembles a woman, second, because it resembles Una, and third, because in imitating "that Lady trew"its mandate is to represent her as untrue. But beyond that, the passage rubs off on "that Lady trew" with peculiar effect. The reader may initially be prepared to fix on the reference to Una's virtue, her "trouthe" or troth, but may, on second thought, recall the ontological contrast between Una, who truly is a "Lady," and the spright, who is not. That second thought, however, turns out to be a boomerang for anyone who takes seriously the identification of Una as "Truth" in the arguments of cantos 1 and 3, and who is thereby encouraged to position her as a figure in the "continued Allegory" of holiness and religious reform. Una has one thing in common with Archimago's "miscreated faire": she may be said to carry the semblance of Truth "under feigned hew" of "that Lady trew." Whenever the allegorical project presses countertextually on the narrative, the "Lady trew" modulates toward the status of a medieval personification, the "lady Trew." But whether one sees her as a "Lady trew" or as the "lady Trew," Una is no less a specter and no less under male instruction than Archimago's spright.

If it is not obvious that the narrative labors to make truth seem what it is not, the virgin daughter of a king, Archimago's false semblances draw attention to that labor by their parody of it. They also draw attention to the feature David Norbrook picks out as a symptom of Spenserian and Protestant misogyny: the equation of Una's purity with her non-display of "female sexuality."[2] This equation is so clearly a donnée of the allegorical countertext that it would make Archimago's slanderous mumbo jumbo seem comic were it not for two considerations. First, Archimago's deep and troubling power resides in his laying bare the unavoidably idolatrous basis of book 1's allegorical project and narrative rationale. The narrator committed to this rationale can't avoid being contaminated by, consanguineous with, that dark power. Second, Redcross's vulnerability to Archimago's magic tricks reminds us that even at the level at which the countertext informs and polices narrative action, the enchanter is Archi-mage, the man with the power. His misrepresentation of Una's truth is marked as entrapment, and Redcross's response as the jealous rage of his victim. But at the level of textual action there is the more complex scenario I have discussed elsewhere and will merely glance at below: the scenario centered on the protagonist's fear of his own sexuality, on his need to defend himself against self-distrust and guilt, and on the conflicted nature of his relation to Una and her quest suggested by the opening stanzas of canto 1.

At this level complicities are redistributed. Although Archimago's infernal credentials seem impeccable and "Legions of Sprights" (1.1.38) are in his service, the magical tricks he actually performs consist only of image making and shape shifting. His allegorical function, "Hypocrisie" (1.1.arg.), refers as much to theatrical as to moral performance and—this is the main point—his enchantments seem cooptive rather than coercive. Redcross is tricked but not forced into the position he takes. Assaulted first by an erotic dream of Una and then by a matching apparition, he wisely "stayde his hand, and gan himselfe advise / To prove his sense, and tempt her faigned [un]truth" (1.1.50). In this, his finest moment, he reassures the apparition of his love and loyalty, and persuades her to go back to bed, thus assuming the enviable position of the upright but clement judge, the object of desire, the chivalrous consoler who wields both moral and sexual power and can afford to be magnanimous, can afford to feel sorry for the poor lovelorn wretch: "Much griev'd to thinke that gentle Dame so light" (1.1.55). What makes the episode most interesting is that its rhetoric casts doubt on the completeness of Redcross's recovery from "unwonted lust" (1.1.49) as well as on the success with which he manages to persuade himself that in his prudence and magnanimity he has really risen above it all. The absolute duplicity of "To prove his sense, and tempt her faigned truth" explains why he was only "halfe enraged at her shamelesse guise" (1.1.50, my italics) and why the spectral scene of copulation in 1.2.4-6 so troubles "his guiltie sight" that he abandons Una. These subtly modulated descriptions of affect offer an alternative to the picture of the powerful enchanter and [End Page 35] his helpless prey. They present Redcross not as a mere victim but as a co-agent whose relation to Archimago is better expressed by the middle voice of shared responsibility than by the passive voice: he gothimself deceived. It was he, then, who empowered Archimago.

The disparity between these two levels and their respective messages is conspicuous. Its effect is to make the representation of Archimago and Redcross as complementary figures (villain and victim) in a romance plot verge on diegetic self-parody, for the plot is patently inadequate to the meanings the text uses it to convey. And this inadequacy rubs off on all the major allegorical sites—on the representations of antipapism, woman, and the patron of true holiness. The inadequacy thus translates into a critique of Protestant iconography. Though the satyrs' worship of Una in 1.6 "as Queene," "as Goddesse," and as "th'Image of Idolatryes," is explicitly an antitype of proper reverence, the episode mischievously betrays the pagan and Petrarchan sources that inform, deform, or reform the sublimation of sexual desire into religious desire.

Such textual mischief leads me to conclude that the effect of book 1's political rhetoric is wrongly described as the "defense of reformed Christianity against idolatry." On the contrary, it is the critique of that defense. The text parodies the tendency of antipapist iconoclasm to slander woman by making her an idolatrous embodiment—an embodiment not only of the Catholic idolatry it criticizes but also of the reformed faith's own iconoclastic aspiration to invisible truth. In this new iconography the mechanisms that assure the transmission of faith make common cause with the mechanisms that assure the transmission of property: if religious truth is idolized as a beautiful and chaste virgin, or as a married and prolific daughter, or as a godly "matron grave and hore," it enters into the discursive arena of sexual and patriarchal politics, where it is defined by the interests of fathers, heroes, and husbands (1.10.3). Book 1 rewrites apocalyptic rhetoric—and here I borrow Donald Cheney's wonderful concept—as a eucalyptic rhetoric; eucalyptic (well hidden) in that it makes a show of pretending to veil its sexual basis even as it exposes the structure of displacements by which the hero's weakness and fear of self, his autophobia, are evasively translated into gynephobic fantasies. These fantasies are assimilated into the reformed iconography from well-marked Ovidian and Petrarchan sites—assimilated and sublimated but by no means disabled.

A recurrent insight in commentary of the last few decades is that The Faerie Queene registers or betrays the inability of its narrator to prevent his art from being parodied, slandered, or appropriated by dubious artist figures of his own creation, figures whose power to feign images is in various ways comparable to his. Archimago is the first in a sequence that includes Despair, Merlin, Phantastes, Proteus, Busirane, and Scudamour, among others. Magicians, rhetoricians, storytellers, shapeshifters, framers of illusion in visual and verbal media, they have been loosely classified as types of false poets. But they also share another characteristic: haplessness. Although each of the trio of wizards who rumble and ramp about in book 3—Merlin, Proteus, and Busirane—stakes out an aggressive claim to authority or power, the claim is represented as inseparable from his vulnerability to or frustrated pursuit of the fair sex. "[A] wanton man's excessive desire—concupiscence in any of its forms—bears the seed of its own impairment": it is telling that this aphoristic statement of the logic of castration Linda Gregerson finds packed into Malbecco's name and predicament applies equally well to our three wizards.

Does it also fit the portrait of Archimago? I have in the past played with the double sense of Archimago's name—Archi-mage, the preeminent enchanter, and Arch-image, the preeminent illusion—and on this basis asserted that the name authorizes a cultural imagination corrupted by its own impossible aspiration toward wholeness / holiness—toward heroic autonomy and tyrannical power—and thus torn by deprivation, anger, and the perpetual fear of impotence. 48 That assertion may have a nice ring to it, but it was nothing more than an assertion. It may find some support in accounts that designate Archimago as the hidden creator of Acrasia's Bower of Bliss or compare his illusion making to that of the witch who created False Florimell in 3.8. 49 But whether there is any interpretive substance to the claim that Archimago is one of the poem's many powerful have-nots—figures of castration—remains to be seen. At least in one respect, his record of accomplishments leaves something to be desired: after his first appearance in 1.1, whenever he intrudes in person his plots tend to misfire. This suggests to me that there is an inverse relation between his power on the one hand and his status as an embodied character, on the other. I turn now to his fortunes—or misfortunes—as a character, beginning with a glance at four critical opinions.

First, William Oram observes that when Archimago dresses like Redcross, the picture of Christian armor concealing his weak and skeletal body gives us a moral X-ray of Redcrosse's condition.[citation needed] Oram's conception of the moral X-ray is a profound insight into the metaphoric power of the image he describes. Yet it isn't the whole story, since, twelve stanzas later, that poor body loses its merely metaphoric status and suffers the comic consequences of materialization when Sansloy comes along and knocks it off its horse.

Second, according to Susanne Wofford, "Archimago serves . . . as a figure for an aspect of the internal life of the book's hero, but he also incarnates a force apart, not existing only internally but representing a kind of constraint or power over the mind."[citation needed] This "force apart" is nevertheless embodied in a fictional character. It has a local habitation and a name. The mundanity of this observation should not detract from its importance. But its importance should not prevent us from taking seriously the comic glee with which the text discomfits, and even makes a spectacle of, the character who embodies the Archimago force.

Third, in his powerful revision of the meaning of Spenser's "pictorialism," Gilman locates book 1's version of "the deeper debate between pictorialism and iconoclasm" in the "paradoxical alliance . . . between the narrator of the poem and Archimago." He argues incisively that Spenser's "artful strategy of taking and yet disclaiming responsibility for . . . everything in the poem generated by the 'pictorial' Spenser of tradition" consists in "ascribing it to the machinations of an other, a false 'Spenser' who must be constantly held at bay." He reminds us that this other is an "Arch-imager" who snares "Spenser's heroes . . . through the creation of a false 'Una' and a false 'Red Crosse,' by an art that exactly replicates Spenser's own."[citation needed] The replication, however, is not exact, first, because the incentive to read-as-if-visualizing is marked as a countertextual defense against reading-as-if-textualizing, and second, because the Arch-imager is also an Arch-image and, as such, is part of that defense.

Finally, Archimago is held at bay chiefly by being "pictorialized" as a wicked old sorcerer and hypocrite. This is not an original observation. It was recognized by critics in a more traditional school of Spenser commentary. Thus Rosemary Freeman notices that Archimago "stands for much more than Spenser's drawing of his character first suggests . . . Only the action of the whole book can show how profound the wickedness is which he represents," and as his victim deteriorates, so the allegory "dwindles into the narrow plotting of a mere deceiver adopting a disguise."[citation needed]

If Archimago's favorite sport is to play wolf-in-sheep's-clothing, one of the narrator's favorite sports is to describe or mimic the enchanter's performances in a manner that emphasizes not only the perils of papist hypocrisy but also the gleeful enthusiasm with which the performer throws himself into his part. In the following lines the self-delighting mimicry works like indirect discourse to integrate the character's pleasure in impersonating a hermit with the narrator's pleasure in impersonating the character:

An aged Sire, in long blacke weedes yclad,
His feete all bare, his beard all hoarie gray,
And by his belt his booke he hanging had;
Sober he seemde, and very sagely sad,
And to the ground his eyes were lowly bent,
Simple in shew, and voyde of malice bad,
And all the way he prayed, as he went,
And often knockt his brest, as one that did repent.
Ah my deare Sonne (quoth he) how should, alas,—
Silly old man, that lives in hidden cell,
Bidding his beades all day for his trespas,
Tydings of warre and worldly trouble tell?
Arrived there, the little house they fill,
Ne looke for entertainment, where none was:
Rest is their feast, and all things at their will;
The noblest mind the best contentment has.
With faire discourse the evening so they pas:
For that old man of pleasing wordes had store,
And well could file his tongue as smooth as glas;
He told of Saintes and Popes, and evermore
He strowd an Ave-Mary after and before.

After dispensing bromides of this sort for several stanzas, Archimago produces the desired narcotic effect, and "Unto their lodgings then his guestes he riddes" (1.1.36). "Riddes" is a remarkably wonderful word, expressing not only his contempt for them but also his own—and the narrator's?—mounting impatience to pack up the piety and take the evil to the next level.

Archimago's subsequent appearances all begin with strong attacks of guile and clever disguising, but each scenario reduces him to a sheep in wolf's clothing. The stanza that introduces the first of his adventures in shapeshifting once again rhetorically reflects the narrator's admiration for his skills: preparing to persecute his archenemy Una he

devisde himselfe how to disguise;
For by his mightie science he could take
As many formes and shapes in seeming wise,
As ever Proteus to himselfe could make:
Sometime a fowle, sometime a fish in lake,
Now like a fox, now like a dragon fell,
That of himselfe he oft for feare would quake,
And oft would flie away. O who can tell
The hidden power of herbes, and might of Magicke spell?

The list of changes accelerated by anaphora and alliteration conveys the fervor of a frenetic practitioner who sometimes gets out of hand. The narrator no less than his subject is diverted by this fantasy of exuberant self-amusement, and by the esoteric power behind it. And yet, as A. C. Hamilton concisely notes, "[w]hile the humor is obvious, the lines comment on the Knight who flees from himself." In the course of humoring the fantasy of metamorphic power the stanza executes a brilliant caricature of autophobia, anticipating the moment two stanzas later when we learn of Redcross's flight "from his thoughts and gealous feare."[citation needed] Both Archimago and Redcross lose control and scare themselves: the point of the analogy lies in the sharp contrast between the trivialized comic-strip version that reduces autophobia to buffoonery and the insidious power of the enchanter's art when its effects are alienated from the character and internalized by his victim. Placing these two moments back to back accentuates the limits of the narrative conventions of allegorical romance with their reliance on the localization and visualization of moral agency. Archimago, as we'll now see, is a paper tiger when he tries to carry out his initiatives in person rather than making himself scarce and entrusting the transmission of his evil to textual channels.

After he sends Redcross packing and completes his metamorphic warmups, Archimago disguises himself as "his late beguiled guest" (1.2.11) and sets out to persecute Una. This turns out to be a pointless and counterproductive exercise: he is forced to do battle, which isn't his strong suit, and, ironically, to fight as Una's protector against the predatory Sansloy, who unmasks and nearly kills the "lucklesse syre" (1.3.33-9). In his next personal appearance he takes a walk in the woods of canto 6 dressed up as a dusty pilgrim, lets himself be seen by Una and Satyrane, and gives Una an account of Redcross's death at the hands of a "Paynims sonne" that we recognize as a muffled version of his own luckless encounter with Sansloy. He manages to oppress Una "with huge heaviness" but he also helps Satyrane find Sansloy, so that Una's new friend can try to avenge the hero's death (1.6.40). Now why would Archimago want to do that? The logic of the episode suggests that he wants Sansloy to beat Satyrane and recapture Una. But it may equally well suggest that he wants Satyrane to give Sansloy the comeuppance he deserves for spoiling Archimago's debut as Redcross in canto 3. In addition, Archimago gives Sansloy the chance to refute his lie and claim that it was not Redcross but the "enchaunter vaine" that he defeated—a piece of news that, if it got back to Una, would restore her hope and defeat his purpose (1.6.42).

As the two knights hack furiously away at each other, and Una flees, Archimago hides

In secret shadow, all this to behold,
And much rejoyced in their bloudy fray:
But when he saw the Damsell passe away
He left his stond, and her pursewd apace,
In hope to bring her to her last decay.

His departure leaves the combatants deadlocked in another of Spenser's endless works. The deadlock reflects Archimgo's own confused motivation for arranging the fight. His hope of catching Una remains unrealized; she meets up with Arthur in the next canto while the enchanter drops out of sight until canto 12. There, in his final cameo appearance in book 1, Archimago tries to disrupt the nuptial ceremony by masking as a messenger who bears a letter from Fidessa/Duessa charging Redcross with infidelity. Since, as he might have anticipated, Una and Redcross easily defuse this threat and again unmask the culprit, he gets thrown into prison for his pains.

This is hardly an enviable record, and it makes one wonder what the reasons are for Archimago's cachet in literary history. In three of his four personal interventions he gets himself into situations that he either cannot win or cannot resolve. If the author of The Faerie Queene thought it mandatory to include an evil magician as part of his romance machinery, he doesn't appear to have taken the convention seriously as it stood. The brilliance and simplicity of his solution was to take seriously his inability to take it seriously and to show how its comic inadequacy may itself be made meaningful. In its parody of antipapist imagery, the poem characterizes Archimago as a figure torn between the desire to fulfill his conventional function and do harm, and the desire to enjoy the performance of harm-doing. It relishes his relish in spookery, hypocrisy, masquerade, and the occasional bizarre scenario in which, enchanted by the props and apparatus of his mystery, the enchanter gets caught up as in a net.

The guiler beguiled—and self-beguiled—is an old saw that makes contact with the Christian commonplace of the self-destructiveness of evil. But Spenser gives the motif a new twist. Because Archimago's exuberant deployment of his power after his opening appearance renders him powerless or hapless or—as in the Satyrane/Sansloy episode—beside the point, his personal appearances compose into a pattern that conveys the message of Christian comedy: crime never pays and the wicked are their own worst enemies. The narrative does his evil work better than he does, and we could say that it doesn't really need him except to serve as a scapegoat so that his personal failures prompt the reader to look elsewhere for the true source of evil. His claim to be that source is interrogated by the textual devices that represent the techniques of allegorical romance—localization, visualization, personification—as machines of comic reduction. Thus the character named Archimago is a countertext, an idol constructed and animated by the Protestant polemic that drives the allegorical narrative.

Archimago Textualized[edit]

"The history of corrupted and corrupting eloquence is one that impinges upon The Faerie Queene at every turning," writes Gregerson. "The villainous avatars of craven poesis—Archimago, Busirane, Proteus, and a host of others—dog Spenser's hero from canto to canto."[citation needed] Critics have long noticed that these avatars also dog Spenser's poet. Archimago has been described as "the internal competitor with the voice of the poet for authorial control of The Faerie Queene." His fiction making is featured in the poem not only as a poiesis counter to Spenser's but also as a parody that exposes the duplicitous, or at least interested, nature of the Protestant narrator's feigning. DeNeef, who was one of the first to explore this theme (and whose formulation is still unexcelled), argues that the poet figure is represented in the poem as "implicated in and even dependent upon the misrepresentations of the fictional false poets." Because "both his manner and his matter duplicate theirs" he finds himself forced to decontaminate his own powers of fiction making or image feigning from those he ascribes to "fictional false poets" and feigners such as Archimago: Archimago "represents the text he [the poet in the poem] might become." He is "both Spenser's textual exploration of the kinds of duplicity that inhabit all metaphoric imitation, and his attempt to limit that duplicity to the text itself." Archimago nevertheless "refuses to be bound or limited: he continually escapes the fictional role of a simple antagonist, and his duplicitous creations threaten constantly to contaminate the poet's."

To preserve the strength of this insight we have to modify its form, for, as we've just seen, "continually" and "constantly" exaggerate Archimago's power as a character. "He" doesn't escape the countertextual limits of the fictional role, but something does. Some force or power gets textually transmitted like a virus—injected or introjected into Redcross and into the narrative/narrator, though this epidemiological analogy makes the victims appear too passive. The virus may circulate like a drug but, like a drug, the user must obtain and inject it. A more adequate account of the relative distribution of power or complicity between Archimago and his victims has to begin with Wofford's perception, quoted above, that "Archimago serves . . . as a figure for an aspect of the internal life of the book's hero, but he also incarnates a force apart, not existing only internally but representing a kind of constraint or power over the mind."That "force apart" is not localized: the "internal and external forces" Archimago represents "have no specific name or 'body' proper to themselves." Rather—and here Wofford adds her voice to the critical chorus that associates Archimago's work with the poet's work—the force "is associated with aesthetic power, and especially the power of books, but can be generalized to include the wider cultural shaping of the imagination and desires for which books are a figure throughout the poem." We can best explore the value of this insight by moving closer to the text.

At the beginning of book 2 we learn that since his favorite enemy, Una, is beyond his clutches, Archimago is forced to settle for Redcross: "Him therefore now the object of his spight / And deadly food he makes," even though he well knows that "His credit now in doubtfull ballaunce hong" since he is less likely to succeed with someone he has "already stong" (2.1.2-3). The thought of Archimago losing confidence in himself is no less important than it is uproarious. It may remind us that only in the first of his four cameo appearances in book 1 does this "false infamous faitour" manage to bring off his project (2.1.30). Even there his first attempt to turn Redcross against Una appears, in his eyes, to have failed and he must try again (1.1.55, 1.2.2-3). But the ways in which he fails and succeeds in this episode are complex and call for scrutiny.

The textual account of Redcross's reaction to the dream and phantom semblances of Una shows that unbeknownst to himself Archimago has in fact succeeded in altering the hero's consciousness before the second attempt. His temptation of the young protagonist brings out an important aspect of "the wider cultural shaping of the imagination and desires": the narcissism and misogyny structured into the discourse of Christian identity and manhood that book 1 targets. Although the potentiality for self-division between the anonymous protagonist and his Redcross identity is laid out in the first three stanzas of canto 1, it is Archimago who actualizes it, and who does so in terms that bind the perils of Christian narcissism to those of sexuality and the castration principle. These terms, however, focus attention on the complicity of the victim in his own victimization. For if in the first of his little intrigues Archimago is able to live up to the meaning of his name it is only because Redcross proves a receptive host to the self-dividing, self-deceiving, and self-defeating fantasy—the originary negative moment in the structure of Christian narcissism—packed into that name.

The temptation of Redcross in cantos 1 and 2 thus shows us what we have to do in order to unpack the meaning of the name Archimago, and where we have to look to discern its effects. The meaning becomes an effective force when alienated from the character bearing the name and internalized like a virus by his victim: "In The Faerie Queene, Archimago's false likenesses insinuate themselves into the hero's inmost imaginative faculties and divide him from himself." But if under such a construal he "serves . . . as a figure for an aspect of the internal life of the book's hero," if his name evokes "that image-making power in the mind that can cause one to misread the world," it doesn't necessarily follow that the hero is passive, ignorant, and defenseless. 64 Rather, as we've seen, his reaction and subsequent behavior activate and interpret the meaning of the name, allowing the virus to multiply and spread. Unlike the drugs of choice in the 1960s the Archimago virus lowers consciousness. It works as a psychic inhibitor: it enables its host to disown knowledge in order to defer the self-loathing, repress the autophobia, that drives and is intensified by the voluntary pursuit of errant desire. Above all, the virus attacks the fantasy of Una, breaks it down into Duessan semblances, and insidiously shields the host from the pain of autophobia and misautia by transforming them to gynephobia and misogyny. Disseminated through Redcross to the multiple reflectors of his worsening state, the Archimago virus manifests its allegorical toxicity in the procession of "too solemn sad" powerseekers and losers who exhibit the stunning coincidence of pride and despair, superbia and accidia, that Søren Kierkegaard would analyze as "the sickness unto death": the phallic hysteria and suicidal despair variously inscribed in the machismo of faithless and lawless chivalry, in the joyless aspiration and desperation of Luciferan glitter, in the abjection of the maternal cave of Night that haunts the house of Pride, and in the spastic thunder of Orgoglio.

A "force apart," as Wofford calls it, a textual, depersonalized, rhizoidal power of Spenserian discourse, the Archimago virus burrows under the sequence of episodes comprising the narrative. Whenever it crops up in the detextualized and personified form of the Archimago character it loses its virulence. For the character is a decoy, a trap, an easy fix, a scapegoat. It condenses and visualizes the evil for handy recognition and disposal. The ideology of narrative flows effortlessly from its aesthetics: storytelling embodies, localizes, and isolates the agency of wickedness in discrete figures and places. But the storytelling in book 1 is performed by a textual voice that internally distantiates itself from it and that represents this condensation of evil in the form of mimetic parody. It is mimetic in two ways. First, the diegetic inventions and motifs are represented citationally as types and examples of traditional discourses. Second, the episodic structure of Archimago's escapades distortedly—melodramatically—imitates the thematic structure of the Archimago virus. That is, in all his cameo appearances after the first, his comic failures to achieve his objective simultaneously dramatize and trivialize the disempowering effects of the virus.

Yet the situation is more complex than I just made it seem because of the specular intimacy between Archimago and the narrator. The virus is most effective when it infiltrates the narrative voice—when the narrator not only imitates the villain's discourse but also shows himself seduced by the opportunity to ventriloquize it and thus to transmit the bad influence of the very books his poem is committed to superseding. This intertextual drama is conspicuously at play in the handling of the Cave of Morpheus episode. The narrator begins by putting Redcross and Una (and the dwarf) to sleep with a periphrasis that anticipates the basic elements of the subsequent underworld journey Archimago's messenger makes to the house of Morpheus:

The drouping Night thus creepeth on them fast,
And the sad humour loading their eye liddes,
As messenger of Morpheus on them cast
Sweet slombring deaw, the which to sleepe them biddes.
Unto their lodgings then his guestes he riddes:
Where when all drownd in deadly sleepe he findes,
He to his study goes, and there amiddes
His Magick bookes and artes of sundry kindes,
He seekes out mighty charmes, to trouble sleepy mindes.

The first quatrain has all the ingredients of a spell or charm, a speech act easily produced by replacing the initial word in each of the first three lines with "Let," and making minute adjustments within the first two lines. The stealthy forces of night and sleep conspire with Archimago—or do his bidding. But so does the poet, whose invocational rhythm and rhetoric present him in the enchanter's role. In line 3, the reader is forced momentarily to hesitate over "As": does it introduce a temporal clause of agency ("While") or a simile that redundantly repeats and varies the preceding line? In other words, is the messenger Archimago's agent or the poet's analogy, a narrative and metonymic or a counternarrative and metaphoric figure? Does the narrator gratuitously exercise his spellbinding powers over characters and readers or auditors alike?—especially over sleepy and inattentive auditors like those described by Michael Murrin? Does he perform the office of a messenger from Morpheus and prepare them to descend into a dream? The stanza registers the seductiveness with which Archimago's role and power beckon to the narrator.

It is as if to acknowledge the appeal and resist it that, when Archimago winds up to deliver his mighty spells, the narrator steps between him and the duly terrified reader with a protective parenthesis:

Then choosing out few wordes most horrible,
(Let none them read) thereof did verses frame,
With which and other spelles like terrible,
He bad awake blacke Plutoes griesly Dame,
And cursed heaven, and spake reprochfull shame
Of highest God, the Lord of life and light;
A bold bad man, that dar'd to call by name
Great Gorgon, Prince of darknesse and dead night,
At which Cocytus quakes, and Styx is put to flight.

The narrator exclaims at the horrific spells that invoke awful underworld powers and call "out of deepe darknesse dred / Legions of Sprights," one of which Archimago despatches to the house of Morpheus (1.1.38-39). But the solicitous censorship by indirect discourse that pretends to shield readers from blasphemy only underscores the storyteller's delight in scaring those readers. As a result their attention is redirected from Archimago's to the narrator's "presence" and performance. He doesn't merely report the blasphemies; he admires their hatefulness, and what he especially admires are Archimago's linguistic skills and powers of enchantment, his discriminating deployment of words, verses, spells, curses, and daring nominations that throw Tartarean rivers into a turmoil. Archimago is surely the most powerful and evil Enchanter in Faeryland.

This is not a transparent account of Archimago's shenanigans, but rather an operatic parody that puts the mark of camp on both him and his narrator. An air of high-spirited impersonation distances the narrator from Archimago. Like Bela Lugosi playing Count Dracula, he conveys the joy of spooking with such verve and histrionic self-delight as to make fun of the very conventions of diegetic performance at which he excels. In both the text's impersonation of the narrator and the narrator's of Archimago, the childlike enthusiasm for melodramatic mumbo jumbo, dark incantations, and energetic mummery dominates the scene of evil-doing. But notice how my very effort to distinguish between the two figures further identifies them and thus registers the ambivalence of the narrator's performance. A reader who detects a critical edge, a touch of Protestant mordancy, in this narratorial enjoyment, is justified in seeing it as a taut response to the difficulty of maintaining distance. At the very moment in which, with his parenthetical admonition, the narrator archly and melodramatically dissociates himself from Archimago, he marks their similarity as wordsmiths. No matter how strenuously he resists contamination, their two methods and projects sinuously intertwine. Even as he transfers responsibility to Archimago, the narrator proceeds with his own words and verses to do an Archimagian thing, or what would nowadays be called "a poet thing" (and "a man thing"), when he executes a literary tour de force in his account of the Morpheus passage.

As the commentaries show, the topos or locus of the house of Morpheus is not simply an imaginary place in the lower world, and the narrative is not primarily describing travel through space to a place. Rather, the topos or locus is a place in literary discourse, the katabasis, the account of a journey to or through the underworld, and the journey the stanzas depict is a journey through a syllabus of literary texts. The syllabus includes passages from Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Statius, Servius, Chaucer, Ariosto, Renaissance mythographers (Natalis Comes and Thomas Cooper), and others. 66 In the stanza-by-stanza glosses that accompany Hamilton's edition of The Faerie Queene, the pathway of allusions winds from Ovid to Virgil to Servius to Chaucer. 67 The way the poem establishes its credentials is to question, criticize, and parody—to try, in a word, to disestablish—the tradition of its predecessors in a particular respect. It assembles the traces of its visits to innumerable topoi in intertextual space into a discursive bricolage that represents the archive, the prejudices, and the defenses, of male fantasy. It is worth recalling at this point a famous katabasis frequently alluded or referred to in Spenser's minor poetry as well as his epic, because its subject is the loss occasioned by the male lover's failure and his displacement of grief into pederasty and poetry: the often misogynist tales Ovid's Orpheus tells in Metamorphoses 10 are depicted as bitter reactions to and reflections of his bungled effort to save Eurydice.

The Morphean katabasis is anticipated by the "drouping Night" quatrain (1.1.36), which I discuss above and which figures the onset of drowsiness as a sneak attack, a conspiracy of nocturnal and infernal powers, a death by drowning. As Hamilton notes, it recalls the poignant lines in the Aeneid when, with "Nox umida" presiding, the god Somnus causes Palinurus, Aeneas's steersman ("gubernator"), to drown by shaking "a bough dripping with [End Page 48] Lethe's dew and steeped in the drowsy might of Styx" over "his swimming eyes." These words occur near the end of Aeneid 5 and they anticipate the katabasis of book 6 with a reverse katabasis. Virgil brings the underworld to Palinurus in a figure that proleptically seals the steersman's watery fate shortly before sending Aeneas to the Sybil's cave and then to the underworld. This double katabasis is the move Spenser replays and calls attention to in stanza 36 as he begins to execute a transfer of Virgilian power from the narrator to Archimago. The transfer decisively releases "messenger" and "Morpheus" from their rhetorical limbo into a narrative underworld that materializes through the auspices of Archimago's magic books and verses.

Virgil's judgment on the katabasis as a backward-looking discourse of nostalgia and pathos—the pathos of idyllic misrecognition and of the anti-historical desire of the eternal return—is expressed by his sending Aeneas and his patrimonial vision of the future out the ivory gate of false dreams. The falseness of Sybilline and paternal prophecies is represented as an effect and mirror of the falseness of katabasis as a literary topos. 70 The remaining books of the Aeneid backtrack from Odyssean to Iliadic material and narrative, as if it is a relief to escape from the human cost and political complexity of the Augustan present to the clearcut heroics of ancient Homeric warfare. This Virgilian context of katabasis is specifically introduced in The Faerie Queene 1 by the egress of Archimago's sprite from the "Yvorie dore" (1.1.44). Spenser's reference reminds us that his Archimagian katabasis also introduces a dream world produced by a spellbinding illusion, and that illusion, like Virgil's, will persist through the cantos that follow. The first of book 1's several katabases is thus approached through the rhetorical gateway of a figure of corrupt male fantasy and discourse. Its purpose is to procure a false dream that not only establishes the framework of illusion within which succeeding episodes will take place but also places a negative value on the framework. 71 And yet the narrator shows himself unable to resist its appeal.

How long does book 1's katabasis persist? Until the defeat of Orgoglio? or of Despair? or of the dragon? Until the poem ends? DeNeef argues that the final betrothal scene in canto 12 rewrites, but nevertheless recalls, the plot Archimago devised to dupe Redcross into distrusting and abandoning Una. Since the false [End Page 49] dream fashioned by the enchanter in 1.1 figures forth "a parodic betrothal, [it] also prefigures the knight's narrative end." After DeNeef cites verbal echoes that further link the two passages he states that Spenser has thereby "converted Archimago's false story into a true one, redeemed the deforming dream into a reforming reality." Archimago is exposed and incarcerated but "his story intrudes upon Spenser's even as it is being rewritten and discredited." The particular form his intrusion takes illustrates once again the demonic synergy between the villainous character and the virus. In this final section I want to suggest how that synergy darkens the end game of book 1.

The feint toward closure in canto 12 begins with the king asking Redcross for an account of his adventures, and the hero, "with utt'rance grave, and count'nance sad, / From point to point, as is before exprest, / Discourst his voyage long, according his request" (1.12.15). If we are paying close attention it might occur to us that what was "before exprest" includes behavior of which the "godly King and Queene" would disapprove, yet either they broadmindedly write it off as bad luck or else he doesn't tell the whole story. The drive toward happy ending moves through the announced six-years' deferral toward the epiphanic disclosure of Una's "heavenly lineaments," the "blazing brightnesse" that the poor poet's "ragged rimes are all too rude and bace, / . . . for to enchace" (1.12.23). At this point, as the king is about to tie "the holy knots," Archimago rushes in and reads the message putatively sent by "Fidessa" (Duessa). He is easily unmasked and contained, and indeed, far from doing damage, he offers a minor challenge that draws the principals—Una, her father, and Redcross—more closely together.Yet it draws them together in a deeply unsettling way.

The devil is in the details, and when Redcross responds to Fidessa/Duessa's accusation, one small detail is particularly devilish:

        My Lord, my King, be nought hereat dismayd,
        Till well ye wote by grave intendiment,
        What woman, and wherefore doth me upbrayd
        With breach of love, and loyalty betrayd.
        It was in my mishaps, as hitherward
        I lately traveild, that unwares I strayd
        Out of my way, through perils straunge and hard;
   That day should faile me, ere I had them all declard. [End Page 50]
   There did I find, or rather I was found
        Of this false woman, that Fidessa hight,
        Fidessa hight the falsest Dame on ground,
        Most false Duessa, royall richly dight,
        That easie was t'invegle weaker sight:
        Who by her wicked arts, and wylie skill,
        Too false and strong for earthly skill or might,
        Unwares me wrought unto her wicked will,
   And to my foe betrayd, when least I feared ill.

This response recovers and re-covers the irruption of the sinner's discourse in the cave of Despair, and it also recalls the misogynist unmasking and scapegoating of Duessa at the end of canto 8. Redcross's "There did I find, or rather I was found" blatantly elides his own active participation in linking up with Duessa and condenses a pattern of self-correction encountered several times in book 1, a pattern the importance of which as a "structuring principle" and narrative trope in Spenser's practice—the trope of corrrectio or epanorthosis—has been perceptively illuminated by Carol Kaske and Gilman. 74 The strategy has a particular rhetorical form: it involves a shift in the pattern of self-justification from one interpretive framework to another, that is, from the framework dominated by the sinner's discourse and questions of moral agency to the one dominated by the victim's discourse and threats to chivalric manhood. Self-correction also has a narrative form. It occurs when, for example, Redcross, having faithlessly abandoned Una, encounters and defeats the projection of his faithlessness in Sansjoy.

"There did I find, or rather I was found": it is in the disjunctive gap between the two clauses that the Archimago virus reveals itself at work. The trope enables Redcross to act out the displacement of blame by arguing, in the words of King Lear, that he is more sinned against than sinning. In the next stanza Una shows her loyalty and trouthe by supporting that argument, validating his version of the story, and confirming the displacement with reduplicative emphasis: "She onely she it is, that earst did throw / This gentle knight into a great distresse" (1.12.33). Yet the terms in which Archimago describes the defection for which Duessa upbraids him clearly recall his treatment of Una ("With breach of love, and loyalty betrayd"). The language of Duessa's letter itself gives off similar sparks of truth in the midst of its mendacious message when, echoing Despair, it refers to "False erraunt knight" and "his bold perjury" (1.12.27). Indeed, the accusation Redcross hears may be false with respect to Duessa, but it is largely true with respect to Una. By impugning the Duessan source, Redcross and Una can discredit the shadow of unhappy truth cast on their relation by Duessa's distortion.

This moment of bad faith is by no means an isolated episode in canto 12, but until we encounter it we have no way of evaluating the problematic suggestion, mentioned above, that Redcross earlier gave the king a faithful account of his adventures—that he, "From point to point, as is before exprest, / Discourst his voyage long" (1.12.15, my italics). It now becomes important to notice the form of the request this discourse responds to. The king asks Redcross to recount the "straunge adventure" and the "perils sad, / Which in his travell him befallen had" (1.12.15), and his reaction to the story he hears establishes its moral evasiveness:

Great pleasure mixt with pittifull regard,
That godly King and Queene did passionate,
Whiles they his pittifull adventures heard,
That oft they did lament his lucklesse state,
And often blame the too importune fate,
That heapd on him so many wrathfull wreakes:
For never gentle knight, as he of late,
So tossed was in fortunes cruell freakes;
And all the while salt teares bedeawd the hearers cheaks.
Then said that royall Pere in sober wise;
Deare Sonne, great beene the evils, which ye bore
From first to last in your late enterprise,
That I note, whether prayse, or pitty more:
For never living man, I weene, so sore
In sea of deadly daungers was distrest . . .

Redcross must have answered precisely and literally in accordance with the king's "request" for a tale of the "perils sad, / Which. . . him befallen had," since what his royal auditors "passionate" about is an epic performance of the pathos or passivity of the victim's discourse. He seems to have said nothing about "the evils" Una "bore" because of him and, as we soon learn, nothing about Duessa. The narrator's repetition of "sad" and "pittiful," supported by the king's "pitty" and reinforced by the [End Page 52] imprimatur that certifies the truth of the tale—"as is before exprest"—indicates that he (the narrator) shares both the knight's point of view on his adventures and the king's opinion of them. It is, however, a point of view that produces an edited and inaccurate account of what was "before exprest." 75 Even if the letter from Fidessa is a lie concocted by Archimago, it contains an important truth, a truth that is news to the king and in response to which Redcross reluctantly tells a truth that contains an important lie.

In this connection it is important to note, first, that when Archimago appears he only triggers an acute manifestation of the duplicity already discernible as a chronic structure in the hero's moral behavior, and second, that his final personal appearance lives up to the standard of inefficiency set by his previous performances: the king's guard "Attacht that faitor false, and bound him strait" (1.12.35). But his reaction to his plight is oddly characterized: he,

seeming sorely chauffed at his band,
As chained Beare, whom cruell dogs do bait,
With idle force did faine them to withstand,
And often semblaunce made to scape out of their hand.

Why should he be compared to an ursine butt of entertainment nipped at by cruel dogs, prevented from inflicting harm, not entirely unsympathetic, another caricature of the vicious but ineffectual bogeyman? This question begs another: who does the comparing and the feigning? Does "As chained Beare" index the way the poet sees it or the way the enchanter plays it? Hamilton has aptly distinguished these two possibilities: "In his falseness, he only pretended . . . to be unable to escape. . . Alternatively, he appeared to be angered and wished to withstand the guard but his force was unavailing." 76 Hamilton's second alternative is consistent with my account of Archimago's ineffectiveness as a character. But the first alternative is much more interesting: it is Archimago who pretends to be "chauffed" and who plays the "chained Beare" and feigns idle force and thus performs a caricature of his role as a character. The passage hilariously suggests that he enjoys keeping his captors on their toes, and that, Houdini-like, he sets up the impossible escape by taunting them to do their worst. They oblige: after chaining him down "in dungeon deepe," they

with continuall watch did warely keepe;
Who then would thinke, that by his subtile trains
He could escape fowle death or deadly paines?

But escape he does, easily, in the first stanza of the first canto of book 2, so that the countertextual melodrama may start up again. Archimago's teasing of his captors suggests that he has finally learned this is not his metier: he does his best work as an out-of-body or textual manifestation.

The enchanter thus hangs around at the end just long enough to offer the wrong target, to help his victims ignore or disown their complicity, and to divert readers from the deeper and less melodramatic damage that was inflicted at the beginning of the adventure and is truly registered in the responses of Redcross and Una to "Fidessa's" accusation. His appearance as Duessa's messenger marks the misogynist skew of the episode. Whether we are to believe that he really is no more than her servant is rendered problematic by the reference to his "seeming great pretence" in stanza 24. Even if this is just one more of the enchanter's illusions, it shows that he appreciates the power of misogyny and gynephobia, and plays to it here, and the sequel proves him right.


  1. ^ Colin Manlove, Christian Fantasy: from 1200 to the Present p 59-60 ISBN 0-268-00790-X
  2. ^ Norbrook 41

Works Cited[edit]

  • David Norbrook, Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984), p. 120.
  • Harry Berger, Jr. Revisionary Play: Studies in the Spenserian Dynamics, intro. Louis Adrian Montrose (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1988), p. 71, 463-4,
  • Berger, "Displacing Autophobia," pp. 174–6
  • Harry Berger, Jr. "Kidnapped Romance," pp. 218–9, 248.
  • William Allen Oram, Edmund Spenser, Twayne's English Author Series (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1997), p. 87.
  • Rosemary Freeman, "The Faerie Queene": A Companion for Readers (London: Chatto and Windus, 1970), p. 89.
  • Berger, Harry. "Archimago : Between Text and Countertext". SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 Volume 43, Number 1, Winter 2003 pages 19–64. 2003.
  • Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death, ed. and trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (1980; rprt. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1983)
  • The Works of Edmund Spenser: A Variorum Edition, ed. Edwin Greenlaw, Charles G. Osgood, and Frederick M. Padelford, 10 vols. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1932), 1:192-5.
  • Hamilton, p. 39. Virgil, Aeneid, in Virgil, trans. H. R. Fairclough, 2 vols. (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1946), 1:501-3