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Book I, Canto II

September 22, 2009

The torturous evening draws to a close. Near dawn, the sprites report their failure to Archimago. He threatens them angrily and turns again to his magic books. His next step is to transform the dream sprite into a lusty squire and put him in bed with the other sprite, the image of Una. Then the sorcerer wakes the Knight up, calling for him to see the Lady’s fornication. The Knight is greatly distressed when he sees them having sex and only the sorcerer stops him from slaying Una on the spot (and revealing the image as a fraud). The Knight leaves with the Dwarf at sunrise.

Unlucky Una awakens to find herself left all alone. She bewails her situation and pursues the Knight and Dwarf on her donkey. But her donkey is slow, and she wanders the country alone. Archimago, who hates her immensely, rejoices in his victory but continues to think of evil ways to harass her. He settles on shapeshifting into the image of the Knight – St. George, as he is explicitly named here. I suspect we have not seen the last of the sorcerer.

Meanwhile, the real Knight, or St. George – or perhaps just George at this point? is far away. He encounters a Saracen bearing a shield that reads SANS FOY, or “without faith”. With him rides a lady clad in scarlet, lavishly decorated with jewels and wearing a bishop’s hat (mitre). As the Knight encounters the mysterious duo, here the reader encounters some allegory less obvious than ERROR’S DEN and the monsters therein. The scarlet lady, we see, is nothing like Una in appearance, demeanor, or description. If Una represents the truth, and as her name states, there is only one truth – then this red woman is surely worthy of our suspicion. She also wears a bishop’s hat, which in that English era surely provoked suspicion as well. And finally, her description is strikingly similar to one of the most famous allegorical women ever written – the Whore of Babylon.

The Saracen begins to charge at the Knight and the Knight charges back. They clash as two rams, stunning each other. They dismount and proceed to fight and bleed. The Saracen curses the cross of the Knight and strikes at his helmet, cutting off a chunk of metal. The Knight swings back and cleaves Sansfoy’s head. Sansfoy dies and his lady flees. The Knight loots the Sansfoy shield and pursues the lady, who begs him for mercy. The Knight asks who she is and who the Saracen was.

She replies that she was the daughter of the Emperor of the West *. She implies that her father was the Roman Emperor. She was engaged to a noble prince who was regrettably murdered before their wedding date. She roamed around looking for his corpse, a “virgin widow” who fell into the company of the Saracen Sansfoy. He had two brothers, Sans ioy (“Without joy”) and Sans loy (“without law”). She names herself Fidessa.

George the Knight has been looking at her more intently than he has been listening. They flirt and ride on together.

Eventually they come to a pair of shade trees. It is the middle of the day and they enter the shade to find relief from the heat. While flirting under the tree, the Knight decides to make Fidessa a garland. He pulls off a branch and is shocked to see blood and hear the tree yell in pain. He wonders aloud if he is going crazy and the tree speaks again. It names itself Fraudubio and claims it was a man turned into a tree by the evil witch Duessa (hmm).

He tells a sad tale of how he used to be a knight, and the other standing tree used to be his lady, Fraelissa. One day they came upon another knight and lady, and Fraudubio vanquished that knight in combat. The other lady – Duessa – joined he and Fraelissa in riding. They were equally beautiful and the knight proclaimed them so, making Duessa jealous. She used false magic to make poor Fraelissa look ugly and then accused her of bewitching Fraudubio and herself. The Knight nearly slew her but instead they just abandoned poor Fraelissa, leaving her to be turned into a tree.

In the springtime, when witches gain their true forms, he spotted Duessa bathing. She was revealed as a horrible, deformed old hag. Fraudubio determined to sneak away and leave her, but she knew his intent and cursed him into tree form alongside his former lady Fraelissa. Now they stand as trees until redeemed by water from a living well.

Fidessa – who by now we all know is really the witch Duessa – pretended to faint at the tree’s voice, yet she heard the story and knew it to be true. The Knight tries to help the tree’s wound and awakens Duessa from her pretend faint.

* Though I can thank Chaucer for my recent revelation that the Devil lives in the North, I can thank Hollywood and L. Frank Baum for my knowledge of the Wicked Witch of the West and the Good Witch of the East.

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