In the Pardoner's Tale how is the pardoner actually a good preacher? 

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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Pardoner, despite his many other faults, has an admirable ability to preach.  The narrator informs the reader about the Pardoner's oratory skills in "The Prologue":

He was, in church, a fine ecclesiast.
Well could he read a lesson or a story,
But best of all he sang an offertory;
For well he knew that when that song was sung,
Then might he preach, and all with polished tongue,            To win some silver, as he right well could; ("The Pardoner," Prologue, 37-42)

With this warning, the reader can well enough conclude that the Pardoner can tell a gifted tale or preach an uncommonly good sermon, but should balance that knowledge with the fact that he only does so for monetary gain.

In "The Pardoner's Tale," the Pardoner opens his tale by descibing three young men who lived in Belgium and were constantly tempted by drinking and women.  This opening draws the listener in, because the Pardoner chooses a common example, the three young men, who many of his audience could readily identify with themselves.  Then the Pardoner brings up Biblical examples, like Lot and Herod, to show the evils of drunkeness and the catastrophic results that even could happen to people in the Bible. 

The Pardoner's argument in this first section is incredibly sound.  He first brings up a modern example and uses the three young men to  compares their vices to a Biblical example.  Then he pulls out the 'big guns' by talking about Paul.  This section of his sermon is intended to show the audience the correct, or true path intended by God.   The Pardoner, using excerpts from Paul's writings, goes on to discuss other extremely sinful vices like gluttony, gambling, or swearing, which the Pardoner hopes will convict his audience with feelings of repentance.

After debating the many evil consequences of the vices listed above, the Pardoner returns to the subject of the three young men in Belgium for the 'meat' of his tale.  These three young men, after much drinking and swearing, make an extremely foolish oath to kill Death, if possible.  Instead of finding death right away, the boys find a big pile of money.  Ultimately, they all begin to plot out ways that each one of them could keep the money for himself; unfortunately, their plans result in all three of the young men dying needlessly. The Pardoner effectively concludes his tale by revisiting the perils of swearing, gluttony, lechery, and gambling, and then he makes his plea for the good members of his audience to buy a pardon in his book, thus absolving them of their sins. 

Despite dubious morals, the Pardoner is an extremely effective preacher from his clever blending of present day examples that his audience can relate to and Biblical teachings.

Read the study guide:
The Canterbury Tales

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