Characterisation of the Three Young Men in The Pardoner's Tale

  • Created by: Jess
  • Created on: 30-04-13 09:53

The Three Young Men

  • The three young men in the Tale are 'types' rather than fully realised characters with definite identities.
  • They exist primarily to play their parts in the story. They are symbolic habitual sinners.
  • We do not learn anything about their lives except that they spend their days wickedly: eating and drinking to excess, "over hir might", gambling, cursing and blaspheming.
  • It is sufficient to know that these men represent an entire way of life for The Pardoner's Tale to work dramatically for the pilgrims.
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The Three Young Men

  • The trio are differentiated from one another by odd lines, but as they are never named it is not possible for us to develop a picture of, for example, "the proudeste of thise riotoures" nor do we know if this proud one is the same as "the yonseste" who draw straws that sends him into town for supplies.
  • When they speak we cannot identify their voices.
  • This is deliberate; the implication being that sin overides personality.
  • They might be differentiated by having personal predilections for specific sins (one a drinker, one a glutton, one committeed to sexual exess, for example) but this is not necessary for the Tale to work.
  • Chaucer doesn't complicate our knowledge of them or slow the narrative down by revealing this.
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The Three Young Men

  • Their speech reveals their common sinful character.
  • The one who speaks to the old man is aggressive and threatening.
  • The two left with the treasure show themselves to be equally quick to plot to murder their supposed friend: specifically they twist the concept of friendship to create a pact against their absent friend.
  • The purpose of these exchanges is not to develop their characters but simply to show that they are aggressive and duplictious.
  • They do not appear to be very intelligent or full of insight. They take things that happen at face value. They never consider that there might be a link between the old man's directions and the appearance of the treasure.
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The Three Young Men

  • Indeed the Pardoner does not give them any redeeming features (except taht we might see their plan to kill Death as intended to be some sort honourable revenge for Death killing their friend), nor suggest any hint of justification or excuse for their habitualy immoral way of life.
  • They are sinners and he needs to make them contemptible in all respects so that their deaths by the own hands are even more deserved and satisfying for the pilgrims.
  • Although the Pardoner never says so, we feel that the three men have freely chosen their sinful way of life.
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The Three Young Men

  • The degree to which the three young men are archetypes can be assessed by our reactions to their deaths.
  • We do not feel sympathy, because they are all villains, or delight, because they each get what they deserve.
  • We feel instead pleasure in the neat and striking conclusion of the plot.
  • For the Pardoner, and for Chaucer's construction of his great work, it is the story and its message that is important, not any particular human outcomes for the characters who act it out.
  • We known nothing about the families of the three men, for example, or what happens after their deaths.
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A useful resource if you use the 'test yourself' option to quickly see how well you know the text; then use the gaps in your knowledge to focus your revision using these concise points as a starting point.

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