Spenser uses paradox in his depiction of Avarice, a figure who represents greed. Redcross encounters Avarice in Lucifera’s palace, where he serves as a royal advisor alongside figures representing the other “deadly sins”: Idleness, Gluttony, Lechery, Envy, and Wrath (Lucifera herself represents Pride). Of Avarice, the narrator states:
His life was nigh vnto deaths doore yplast,
And tired-bare cote, and cobled shoes he ware,
Ne scarse good morsell all his life did tast,
But both from backe and belly still did spare,
To fill his bags, and richesse to compare;
At first, Avarice appears to be poor. His clothing is threadbare, his shoes have been crudely repaired, and he appears to be starving, having never tasted “a good morsell all his life.” In fact, he appears to be on “deaths doore.” Despite his impoverished appearance, however, he carries bags of money with him, suggesting that his wealth has been gained by self-deprivation.
In the following stanza, Spenser clarifies the paradox at the center of his portrayal of greed:
Most wretched wight, whom nothing might suffise,
Whose greedy lust did lacke in greatest store,
Whose need had end, but no end couetise,
Whose wealth was want, whose plenty made him pore,
Who had enough, yet wished euer more.
Here, Spenser frames this paradox in a number of ways. Avarice’s characteristic greed has brought him “lacke in greatest store,” or great amounts of nothing. His “wealth was want” and so too has “his plenty made him pore.” Here, Spenser plays on the language of abundance and deprivation. Ultimately, in saving money by depriving himself, he has wasted the money he intends to save. Under an ordinary understanding, having money is the opposite of being poor; Spenser, however, suggests that the miserly Avarice is poor in a deeper, more spiritual sense because of his hoarded wealth.