The Faerie Queene

by Edmund Spenser

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Who is Archimago, and what is his significance in The Faerie Queene?

In The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, Archimago is a magician who looks holy in appearance but is evil and deceptive beneath. When Archimago fails to trick the Red Cross Knight through images of lust, he catches him through his pride and splits the Knight from Una.

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In Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, Archimago is both a magician and a symbol of hypocrisy and evil intent. In his outward appearance, he looks like a holy man, a hermit who lives a humble life of study, prayer, and penance. But Archimago is inwardly evil and deceptive to an extreme, and he works for the devil.

Archimago's name actually tips us off right away that something is not right about his character. He is both the “arch-magician” and the creator of images. He is a deceiver who uses his magical abilities to throw up false visions and summon deceptive spirits that he uses to try to turn the Red Cross Knight and Lady Una to sin.

For instance, Archimago orders a spirit to visit the Red Cross Knight in the form of Una. This false Una tempts the Knight to lust in a dream. The Knight is tempted indeed, but he resists the trick, and Archimago fails. He is not ready to give up yet, though. He also tries to trick the Knight by showing him a false image of Una in bed with a lover. This, unfortunately, catches the Knight, and he believes that Una is unchaste. He actually rides off without her, angry that she is so lacking in virtue as to give herself to a lover. Archimago has now caught the Knight through his pride, for the Knight now feels like he is much better than Una, too good, in fact, for her company. He fails to notice that he is looking only at a false vision.

Archimago, therefore, serves as an antagonist to the Red Knight. His is a villain in disguise and a warning to all people to watch out for false images and to strive for the truth in all circumstances. His ploys show how easily even good people like the Knight can be deceived.

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