The Pardoner's Tale (Themes, Characters and Narrative Techniques)

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Theme - Deception

  • Pardoner never says whether the tale is true
  • Pardoner's life is based on deceiving people into parting with their money.
    • Habitual fraudster who enjoys the profits of his deception
  • However, the confession is not an attempt to decieve and hide his true nature, he tells us truthfully of his methods and ways.
  • The three men are deceived several times:
    • Into thinking they can kill the theif called death
    • by the Old Man into going where the gold awaits them (either because the old man is death in disguise or is a supernatural accomplise 
    • bring about their own deaths by two acts of deception against eachother
  • Description of The Pardoner is deceiving - "emasculated" "small voice & hairless chin"
    • could be a e!unuch
    • could be a woman dressed as a man
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Theme - Corruption

Strong sense of physical corruption, decay, disfigurment and decline especially in sermon:

  • the image of decay in "the 'povereste widwe in a vilage/ al shoulde hir children sterve for famine" is bleak and cruel as she has just been scammed by the Pardoner
  • The village is described as morbid as death can be found "I trowe his habitacioun be there" and creates a dark gothic image
  • Many of the relics the Pardoner uses are unpleasant and remains of death and decay

The focus on physical decay highlights the moral and spiritual corruption of the Pardoner - "I wol drinke licor of the vine/ and have a joly wenche in every toun"

The powerful visual images of corruption increase the gothic mood of both the prologue and the tale

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Theme - Gluttony and drunkenness

Seen as serious sins in Chaucer's time - resources were not abundant or sustainable so overindulgence was seen as insulting and contributing to the plight of starvation so the 3 rioters would have been greatly frowned upon.

Pardoner speaks of both sins in his sermon, prompted by the descriptions of the 3 men, and uses the bible to support his comdemnation of the sins. 

  •  
    • "O glutonye, ful of cursednesse!"
    • "Corrupt was al this world for glutonye"
    • A gluton's belly is "fulfilled of doung and corrupcioun!"
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Theme - Religion and Dissent

Pardoner makes his corrupt living by abusing religious beliefs and employs allusions to biblical stories to add to his sermon. He demonstrates biblical knowledge but misuses it. In corrupting God's work he is committing the sin of blasphemy.

The three men die because of their sinning and through these sins they fall through the law set in the bible that the love of money is the root of all evil - "Radix malorium est cupiditas"

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Theme - Avarice and the abuse of power

Avarice = extreme greed for wealth of material gain

Pardoner spends his whole life committing this sin, using the further sin of deception to satisfy his greed. His motto in the sermon is "Radix malorium est cupiditas" which contradicts this. 

"Al had she taken prestes two or three" - suggesting that a woman may have slept with two or three priests implies a low moral standard of the church. 

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Theme - Death

  • Death personified was a serious fear in Chaucer's time and they would have taken it very literally as a theif called death stealing people's lives
  • Gothic element
  • "Ther cam a privee theef clepth Deeth."
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Character - The Old Man

  • First and only person the 3 rioters meet
    • "When they han goon nat fully half a mile"
  • Old and "povre" and greets them "fully mekely"
  • Speaks simply and humbly with wise and melancholy tones
  • Speculation of his existence:
  • Death himself
    • He's lived so long
    • Has great confidence - could be from hidden powers
    • Shows no fear of the rioters - death has nothing to fear
  • Supernatural:
    • Has travelled as far as India to swap age for his youth
  • Immortal:
    • Has been singled out as not being able to die
    • "Ne Deeth, allas he wol nat han my lyf"
  • Described as "al forwrapped" - almost as if disguised.
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Characters - the three rioters

  • Never named - its hard to distinguish between them "proudeste/yonsete" - not fully differentiated
    • Implies that sin overrides personality
  • Audience do not feel sympathetic towards them because they are villains
    • Glad they get what they deserve and pleased the plots do not work out
  • Speech and actions demonstrate sinful characteristics
    • Plot behind a friend's back
    • Aggressive and threatening when speaking to an old man
    • Lack intelligence and insight as they cannot draw a link between old man's directions and the appearance of money
  • Symbolic habitual sinners
    • Spend their days wickedly; eating, drinking, gambling, cursing and blaspheming
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Character - The Pardoner

  • Corrupt religious figure which adds novelty and show and implies criticism of church
    • Can't tell whether he actually believes in God
      • If he does: his desire for a good life is stronger than religious convictions
      • If he doesn't: he is hypocritical in pretending to hold a belief that he doesn't believe in in order to defraud those who do
  • Breaks moral and artistic conventions
    • Suggests that good deeds go unrewarded and bad deeds go unpunished
    • Pardoner is a rogue who gets away with his villainy and revels in what he does
    • Cheats country parsons out of their money to fund a comfortable life for himself
  • Sexual identity is questionable:
    • "A voys he hadde as small as hath a hoot" "no berd hadde he"
      • squeaky voice and no beard could suggest a ******, woman dressed as a man or that he is homosexual (which the church teaches against)
  • Voice
    • Confident he will always create the intended effect upon an audience
    • Sure of everything and thinks he has the skill to hold an audience
    • Confesses and happily admits that he is a hypocrite - "I preche nothing but for coveitise"
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Techniques - Imagery

  • Vivid descriptions of the effects of sinning using strong and direct language aswelly as the earthy subject matter.
    • Pardoner very successfully conveys the disgustingness of the sin gluttony in his sermon using very graphic images
      • The drinker makes his throat a 'privee' or toilet
      • The glutton's 'bely' is a pod of dung and courruption.
      • The passage is very powerful and invokes revulsion at the thought of food.
  • Imagery is used to create disgusting images of excess and decay to make sinners ashamed.
  • Enhances the rhetorical tone and develops the macabre, githic mood of the writing.
  • Uses comdemnatory language at the behaviour of the sinners & a frantic and aggressive voice
    • With gambling "this daggere shal thurghout thyn herte go"
  • Symbolic use of "croked wey"
    • The path they go down is literally crooked
    • They follow a morally crooked way of dealing with eachother which leads to their deaths
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