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The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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What makes "The Pardoner's Tale" from The Canterbury Tales enjoyable?

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"The Pardoner's Tale" is enjoyable because both the prologue and the tale itself satirize human failings. In the prologue, the Pardoner, himself a greedy character who is open about his cupidity, relates how he defrauds his parishioners. While he preaches that greed is the root of evil, he also admits that "It's greed alone that makes me sermonize." He sells relics to make money, and he preaches to acquire money while watching others live in poverty.

In "The Pardoner's Tale," three unholy youths, condemned to death for their sins, hear while drinking in a pub that their friend, also drunk, was slain by a character named Death. They promise each other to slay Death--which is of course a fruitless and darkly funny task--and they wind up dying themselves. What kills them all is their own stupidity and greed, as two of them wait to slay the man who has gone for food and drink. After two of them slay the first man, they drink the wine that the other brought them (and that is poisoned). They all wind up dead, as by trying to meet Death, they wind up dead. The humor in this story comes from the tendency of people to think they can outwit death and from the way in which humans only wind up hurting themselves through their greed.

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