Throughout literature, relationships can often be found between the author of a story and
the story that he writes, whether intentional or not. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s story,
Canterbury Tales, many of the characters on the pilgrimage make this statement evident
with the tales that they tell. Such a distinct relationship can be made between the
character of the Pardoner and the tale that he tells.
Through the Prologue to the Pardoner’s tale, the character of the Pardoner is
revealed. Although the Pardoner displays many important traits, the most prevalent is his
greed. Throughout the prologue, the Pardoner displays his greed and even admits that the
only thing he cares about is money: “I preach nothing except for gain” (“Pardoner’s Tale”,
Line 105). This avarice is seen strongly in the Pardoner’s tale as well. In the Pardoner’s
tale, three friends begin a journey in order to murder Death. On their journey, though, an
old man leads them to a great deal of treasure. At this point, all three of the friends in the
tale display a greed similar to the Pardoner’s. The three friends decide that someone
should bring bread and wine for a celebration. As the youngest of the friends leaves to go
buy wine, the other two greedily plot to kill him so they can split the treasure only two
ways. Even the youngest decides to “put it in his mind to buy poison / With which he
might kill his two companions” (383, 384). The greed, which is evident in the character
of the Pardoner, is also clearly seen in the tale.
Another trait that is displayed by the Pardoner and a character in his tale is
hypocrisy. Although the Pardoner is extremely greedy, he continues to try and teach that
“Avarice is the root of all evil” (6). He explains to the pilgrims how money is the root of
all evil, and then he takes the money from them in exchange for forgiveness of their sins.
This action could be seen in two ways. Perhaps the Pardoner is a very greedy, trecherous
man, or perhaps Chaucer is trying to jab at Christianity by alluding to Christ. The
characters in his tale display great hypocrisy as well. As the tale begins, the friends all act
very trustworthy and faithful towards all of their friends. They nobly make a decision to
risk their lives while trying to slay their friend’s murderer. As they talk about their
challenge, they pledge “to live and die each of them for the other, / As if he were his own
blood brother” (241-242). At the end of the tale, the “brothers” begin to reveal their true
nature. They all turn on each other in an attempt to steal the treasure for themselves. All
of the loyalty, which they had pledged, was simply a lie and no faithfulness remained.
While the two older “brother” plotted to kill the younger, the younger “brother” plotted
“to kill them both and never to repent” (388). Thus, these so-called faithful “brothers”
display their true ruthlessness and reveal their hypocrisy in relation to the Pardoner’s
The characters in the “Pardoner’s Tale” match the unctuous nature of the Pardoner
in a great deal of ways. All of these traits and ideas that are seen in both the Pardoner and
the tale that he tells show a strong relationship in the two. Chaucer used this technique in
all of the tales that are recorded in Canterbury Tales. This technique gives a greater
insight into the mind of the teller. By analyzing the tales, it is possible to learn much
about the teller of the tale. Using this method, Chaucer focuses on the characteristics of
each of the people involved in Canterbury Tales, but also keeps the poem interesting.