“The Pardoner’s Tale” is one of the most ironic stories in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. It is told by a character known, of course, as the Pardoner, who is boldly and unapologetically greedy and deceitful. The tale itself is, surprisingly, a moral warning against greed.
The tale’s setting shifts several times. The story begins in Flanders, which is now a part of the country of Belgium. The initial action takes place in a town tavern in which the three main characters are reveling:
These three rakes I am telling about,
long before any bell had rung for morning service,
had set themselves in a tavern for a drink
After a serving boy tells them that their friend has been murdered by Death, the three “rakes” take off in their drunken stupidity to get revenge by finding and killing Death himself. The setting at this point is the road to a village. On the way to the village they encounter and badger an old man, who tells them that Death is up a path in a grove from which he has just come.
The grove becomes the next setting when the characters go there and find unattended money, which eventually leads to their deaths as they attempt to double-cross each other.
The great irony in the tale is that, in seeking Death, they find their own deaths, and that they were actually pointed in that direction by Death himself in the form of the old man that they encountered on the road.