How are the religious men of the party described by Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales—specifically, how is the Pardoner described?—and explain how "The Pardoner's Tale" is appropriate for the kind of man he is described to be.
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In Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer describes a number of people who are clerics—who serve the church in some capacity. Of the men he lists, there is only one who he admires: the Parson. He is a man who lives a holy life in the service of others. From Chaucer's viewpoint—himself a member of the pilgrimage—he finds the Parson to be a man who lives by the vows he has taken, and he cares for his "flock." However, Chaucer does not have such a fine opinion of the other clerics, specifically the Monk, the Friar and the Pardoner.
Each man is described separately, however, what they all have in common is that the do not serve the Church, or God, but serve themselves instead. Generally, the physical descriptions of each and reading between the lines shows the reader that they are not the servants of God that they should be.
The Pardoner is a man who sells "indulgences," which can be purchased for the forgiveness of sins—so that those will money will be forgiven, and those without money, will not.
A Pardoner was...
...a preacher who raised money for religious works by soliciting offerings to which indulgences (pardons) were attached. The granting of pardons for offerings was often abused, however, and fake pardoners were not infrequent.
We are not told that the Pardoner is a fake, but he is selling...
...pardons piping hot from Rome.
This means that they are stolen. His "territory" is betweenBerwick...and Ware:
...two towns: one in southeastern Scotland, the other outside of London.
He covers a broad area, and no other pardoner can do half as well as he does for he has more than just indulgences to sell...
For in his bag he kept a pillowcase
That was, he said, our Blessed Lady's veil;
He claimed to own the fragment of the sail
That Peter had the time he walked the sea
And Jesu saved him...
Using these items, he swindles people out of more money in one day that the [noble] parson can raise in one or two months. The Pardoner has beautiful long, blond, and curly hair, but does not wear a hood to cover his head properly. It would be untrue to say that he cannot read scripture or deliver a good sermon—he did both well. He also had a beautiful singing voice—all the while knowing that the better a job he did at these things, the more silver he would collect.
"The Pardoner's Tale" is about three men who are drinking at the pub early—probably they have been there all night. A funeral goes by, and in asking, they discover one of their drinking buddies has died. Death is responsible here (personified), so they go looking for him—all drunk—to punish him. They meet an old man who directs them to the top of the hill, to find Death. Arriving there, they find a great deal of money. They must devise a way to remove it so no one sees. They send the youngest to get wine, and plan then to murder him and keep his share for themselves. The younger one plans the same, bringing back bottles of poisoned wine. The older two men fall on the younger and stab him to death. Job accomplished, they sit down to enjoy the bottles of wine the young man had brought. They are poisoned and die. All three went looking for Death—they were allsuccessful in this endeavor.
The Pardoner tries to impress upon the others the dangers of greed, but ironically, he is as guilty of this sin as anyone—the story applies to him, perhaps more than anyone else.
Adventures in English Literature. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1963
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