One critic has observed that “Chaucer enhances the tale by setting it within the tones of the Pardoner’s own narrative”. How important to you consider Chaucer’s characterisation of the Pardoner to the effect of the Prologue and Tale as a whole? “The life of the tale is there in the living language, and it comes to our senses and mind, our feeling and thought, through the poetry: in reading it, we experience the medieval community, its values, and something of the way human life was carried on in it. ” Holbrook. “Telle us som moral thing, that we may leere Some wit”.
The Pardoner, at once a fascinating yet repulsive man successfully embraces this request, entertaining both his audience and reader with his tale condemning greed, pride, drunkedness and gambling, all “sinnes” that the Pardoner himself boasts of. Chaucer uses this stereotypical Pardoner of the 14th Century to both warn us and even preach to us, encouraging his contemporary reader not to be gulled by such a rouge, whose often implausible and inhuman behaviour was not exaggerated, simply taken from similar characters form Chaucer’s era.
He also stresses a universal and timeless message of “Radix malorunm est cupiditas. ” The tale, rich in satire, paradoxes and irony skilfully captures Chaucer’s knowledge of human nature, whilst continually shifting in tone, style and pace to hold our attention, adding a sense of dark humour, hopefully causing us to laugh out of our own folly. Totally corrupt, this arrogant and vulgar rascal, complete with false “bulles” and “pigges bones” abuses his ecclesiastical association, taking pleasure in swindling money from people “povre”, and even those that will “sterve for famine”, making “apes” of both “the person and the peple”.
He also uses his pretended power to reek revenge on those who trespassed against him spitting out his “venym under hewe/Of hoolinesse”. He is a cynic who scorns those foolish enough to be duped by him, hinting that it is their guilt and desperate need for redemption or even their own greed which leads them to be so easily swayed by him. He lacks repentance or even shame, taking pride and boasting of his avarice, claiming he preaches simply for “coveitise”. ” myn entente is nat but for to winne, And nothing for correction of sinne I rekke nevere, whan that they been buried.
Though that hir soules goon a blackberied. ” Ironically the pardoner is so skilled and manipulative that without intending it, he causes others to repent from avarice and gluttony, here Chaucer has added the intervention of good overcoming evil using evil personified (the Pardoner) as a medium. This suggests that despite the Pardoners self-professed ingenious he is not as in control of his life as he likes to deceive himself. The reason why the Pardoner reveals his phoney profession to his party of pilgrims is unclear and often criticised.
However it could be argued that this confessional prologue, or “apologia” is a method in which to entertain the party he is travelling with, knowing that they would not be among the usual victims he normally preys on. Although perhaps he is foolishly allowing his vanity to spill out with the aid of his loosened tongue from the “drinke”. The Tale that opens in a tavern clearly reflects the dwelling of the Pardoner and his party at the time. This is one of the many examples of obvious irony that saturates the entire tale.
The tale itself is typically medieval, based around a strict structure and divided into several clearly separated points tackling each sin (a culpa) individually. His sermon-like build up to the tale proper is tautological, heavily ironic, deeply condemning and vile in places “O wombe! O bely! O stinking cod,”. Interweaving biblical exempla to strengthen his preaching he also varies the tone and pace continually creating interest. The tale proper itself is not original, and thus takes on a naturalistic conversational tone, making it vivid and believable.
The three rioters are not named but simply referred to as “the proudeste”, “the worste” and “the yongeste” Perhaps Chaucer did not give them names in order to focus more on the moral element of the tale rather than minor details. An addition to the inherited story is the old man, his courteousness, thoughtfulness and proper respect for God and death directly contrasts with the rioters rudeness, recklessness and an ignorant disrespect for God and death. Their ill treatment towards him also allows us to feel unsympathetic towards their foreboding death and he advances the plot by leading them directly to the very death they were looking for.
Having told the story he once again begins preaching and sermonising, simply covering all the sins that he himself presented in his prologue. Whilst he condemns the rioters for “many a grisly oath” accusing them of tearing apart Jesus’ body we are reminded that he opened the tale swearing “by nailes and by blood! ” He is guilty of gluttony as he boasts of taking “monie, wolle, chese and whete” while pride and drunkedness feature in his claim to “drink licor of the vine/And have a joly wench in every toun”.
His boasts of sexual prowess are undercut by the previous revelation in his portrait that it was sworn he was “a gelding or a mare” and the description of his grossly effeminate appearance with “A voys… as smal as a goot. ” The continual and exaggerated use of irony makes the tale comic, in my opinion the Pardoner is aware of all his vices and his evil, and tells the tale in this way in order to entertain, knowing that he is in fact a “ful vicious man”. This leads me to disagree with Charles Mosely.
“We are listening to a soul that is dammed and does not yet know it” In my opinion the Pardoner is fully aware that he is dammed, yet is so corrupted that he doesn’t take heed of the very religion he preaches, and frankly doesn’t care about the destiny of anyone’s soul, including his own. His ability to cleverly deceive and trick, undoubtedly earns him some admiration from the audience and reader, we as human beings seem to be drawn to evil and darkness, finding it much more interesting than pureness and virtuousness.
Therefore through the Pardoner, Chaucer makes an amazing narrator, one who goes against god yet ends up serving him, one bursting with sin so that he not only encourages us to compare his greed, swearing, drinking, gambling and pride with his preaching but also our own. It could be argued that the only point at which the Pardoner fails is when he attempts to fool the audience to which he has just confessed all, a feat too ambitious even for the Pardoner, leaving himself open for ridicule and mockery.