illustration of a clergyman with Canterbury cathedral behind him

The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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What is the opinion of the Pardoner in The Canterbury Tales?

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The Pardoner is one of those loveable irascible rogues in literature whom we normally love to hate. Certainly one of his many functions in this excellent collection of tales is to instil some colour, verve and flair into the storytelling, especially when compared with some of the other, more sombre offerings we are entitled to in this collection.

From what we can glean from the text, he is suspected and distrusted by the other pilgrims travelling with him, and with reason. He himself, in the prologue to his tale, says quite openly:

"I'll tell you in a word what I'm about:

I preach for money, and for nothing else."

He also goes through the elaborate way he has of fleecing people of their money to buy pardons for sins they have yet to commit, and how he builds his success around a series of "dodges" or "tricks" that involve fooling people. And he plays the part oh so incredibly well, according to the "Prologue." Although he is described in rather a repulsive way (the narrator says he has "bulging eyes" and wonders whether he is a "gelding" because of his clean-shaven face and lank, yellow hair), he is remarkably successful in his trade:

But with these relics, when he came upon

Some poor up-country priest or backwoods parson,

In just one day he'd pick up far more money

Than any parish priest was like to see

In two whole months. With double-talk and tricks

He made the people and the priest his dupes.

Therefore the Pardoner seems to be very open about his deceit, and the majority of the company seem to look on him with suspicion as a figure of fun who can provide them with more excitement and fun than certain other characters can.

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