With regard to the Pardoner in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, in what ways is the Pardoner's occupation appropriate to his character?
Why did Chaucer make him a pardoner rather than a lawyer or government official?
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In Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, the author paints a less-than-flattering picture of the Pardoner.
I believe that Chaucer portrays the man as a servant of the Church because the Church was very much like a business. Chaucer was not happy with the concept that people should have to pay for forgiveness, which is exactly what the Pardoner is: forgiveness for a price. Chaucer saw characters like the Pardoner and the Friar as men who used the Church to advance their own lives and successes at the expense of the poor and down-trodden. Instead of lifting these people up as the Church taught them, they took advantage. In fact, the only clergyman that Chaucer admires is the Parson, who lives what the Church preaches, and gives all that he has to guarantee not only the spiritual well-being of his parishioners, but also their physical comforts.
For those, like the Pardoner, who wish not only survive but to thrive, "serving" the Church was a perfect place. The Pardoner lived in his parish where he did not have someone supervising him directly to keep him honest and in line. If he collected more than he should or sold stolen pardons, the Church would not know if he sent money along to support the main Church. This position provided him with flexibility and autonomy, which provided more financial success.
Ironically, the Pardoner also thrives because he is like a wolf in a pasture of sheep: he is intelligent and knowledgeable about what he can do and get away with; he is also aware of what will bring him a greater return "on his investment." If he sings really well during his service, he will collect more money in the collection plate. Who could keep track of the many unChristian-like activities which bring him such rich financial gain? Add in the fact that he cares nothing for those he serves or what happens to them after he rips them off, the Pardoner could easily be a government official or a lawyer, but the Church was the biggest business around at the time. It crossed lines off religion, politics and society. It was the one constant in the lives of those living during the Middle Ages: it was in the Church that lives could be changed—or, in the case of men like the Pardoner, money could be made.
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