How far do you agree with the view that the Pardoner is portrayed by Chaucer in the Tale as wholly bad?

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How far do you agree with the view that the Pardoner is portrayed by Chaucer in
the Tale as wholly bad?
In the Pardoner's Tale, Chaucer portrays the Pardoner to be a 'bad' character by reasserting
two of his most dislikeable traits: his arrogance and his vanity. Indeed, many of the reasons
why readers assume the Pardoner to be villainous stem from these two qualities. For
example, when he tells the pilgrims to read the "Holy book" it is done with arrogance as he
knows the majority cannot read. Similarly, he takes excessive pride in the way he preaches
and makes his profits through selling fake relics. However, although Chaucer depicts the
Pardoner as wholly bad overall, he has given him certain qualities which, when isolated, are
somewhat good. The most prominent example of this would be his honesty: even though
he is a frequent sinner he unashamedly admits to doing this.
The Pardoner's use of hyperbolic language when addressing the issue of gluttony is both sly
and malicious. In the acting sermon of the Tale he cries out that "Gluttony has corrupted the
whole world", and this is extremely ironic as the pilgrims are poor and hungry. He then
attempts to make the pilgrims loathe themselves with descriptions of food that they crave:
they are "filth" because they want to "swallow the sweetest juices" of bone marrow and
want "spices out of herbs". Marrow and spices were expensive items during the 14th
century and ones that only the well-off could afford, so the Pardoner is effectively mocking
the pilgrims as they cannot possibly afford such extravagant food and are thus starving. The
irony is that it is the Pardoner who wants to consume these items, and this is what makes
him bad: gluttony has in fact only corrupted him and nobody else in the congregation. The
prologue to the tale supports this as the Pardoner admits that he wants "meat and [...]
bread and cheese". The constant attacking of the pilgrims who have supposedly been
"fattened with gluttony" encourage us to feel sympathetic towards the pilgrims and ignite
our dislike of the Pardoner: we therefore interpret him to be wicked and wholly bad.
Chaucer also portrays the Pardoner to be extremely arrogant throughout the course of the
Tale. After stating that good men abstain from drinking he tells the pilgrims to "read all
about it in the Holy Book". This is a sly quote, as few people during the 14th century would
have had the privilege to an education, and therefore have been able to read or write. He
distastefully flaunts the fact that he can read, by making numerous references to secular and
historical figures such as "Attila", "Seneca" and "Stilbo". These references illustrate that is
clearly more educated than the pilgrims and reasserts the notion that he is narcissistic, since
the references are coloured with pride, thereby insinuating that he believes he is superior in
comparison to the congregation. It is this blatant snobbery that Chaucer has chosen the
Pardoner to possess which makes him bad.
References to these figures also highlight another quality of the Pardoner which makes him
evil: he is incredibly manipulative in the way he delivers his sermons. None of the figures
mentioned before denote any biblical significance but the Pardoner manipulates their stories
to mould them into religious exempla. For example, he uses "Attila" and "Seneca" to state
that "drunkenness is the graveyard of intelligence and decency". There are two points which
can arise from this. Firstly, a part of the quote on drunkenness may ironically hold true for
the Pardoner as he seems to be slightly intoxicated from drinking ale prior to his story - this
may be why he is so open and also indecent. Secondly, these secular figures could also
substitute for any religious content that the Pardoner may not know. Therefore, he plays on
the fact that the pilgrims cannot read and their general ignorance to make himself sound

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The latter point demonstrates his arrogance in that he simply knows he can get away
with manipulating insignificant stories to make the pilgrims feel bad and cough up money for
his own gain. Even biblical stories are exaggerated to an extent, for example, the story of
Lot in the bible says nothing about his being drunk, and the eating of the apple suddenly
becomes gluttony.…read more

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An alternative view of the Pardoner can be that he values honesty, despite the fact that his
work demands dishonesty. This may seem contradictory, since dishonesty is the foundation
of his relic-selling routine, however, it is a necessary part of the routine. His sermons are
after all an act, and to him, a form of art. It could be argued that all actors are liars, since
their vocation entails imitating life.…read more


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