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Analysis of Chaucer’s Depiction of Pardoner in The Pardoner’s Tale

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The idea of deceiving innocent people for personal gain was prevalent during the medieval era. The fourteenth century poet of Canterbury Tales communicates the repercussions of dastardly deception through the perspective of the Pardoner, which reflects on the corrupt values of medieval society. Chaucer implies the universal theme of the poem through subtle verbal irony to craft a satirical tale to reveal the underlying nature of the Catholic Church. The poet exemplifies the Pardoner as a deceitful character through the usage of Biblical allusions and vivid imagery to illustrate how possessing corrupt morals leads to destruction. 

The Pardoner’s sermon contains Biblical allusions to convey the moral of “the curse of avarice and cupidity” to achieve the ulterior motive of oppressing guilt upon the pilgrims. The Pardoner cunningly crafts a tale about three drunken rioters who exemplify the sins of gluttony and drunkenness that are linked to avarice. The heart of the Pardoner’s sermon revolves around the theme of “radix malorum est cupiditas,” which means “the love of money is the root of all evil”. Verbal irony is present in this line since the Pardoner preaches about the particular sin that consumes him as he deliberately deceives his congregation for money. 

Beginning his tale, the Pardoner alludes the gluttonous actions of the three rioters to be similar to the Biblical Story of Adam and Eve. He describes the rioters to be “eating and drinking far more than they can hold” as they “were too drunk to know what they were doing”. The Pardoner preaches, “o cursed gluttony, our first distress. . . the very origin of our damnation,” to show the comparison between the rioter’s ravenous actions to the fall of Adam and Eve, which indicates that gluttony causes disobedience towards God. Following gluttony, the Pardoner preaches that “wine is a lecherous thing and drunkenness disfigured thy face” to communicate the effect of the deadly sins. 

The Pardoner depicts an alcoholic to have “a stertorous snort like ‘samson-samson’. . . ” to signify how drunkenness disfigures the image of God within the human person. The Pardoner alludes drunkenness to the Old Testament Israelite, Samson, in an ironic manner. In the Old Testament, Samson vowed to abstain from drinking, yet his downfall was primarily due to his lover, Deliah. Likewise to gluttony, the Pardoner hints to the congregation that drunkenness reduces one into the hands of death. Chaucer exhibits the Pardoner’s utter understanding of Biblical scriptures since he interprets it correctly and gives specific examples of lechery. The deceptive nature of the Pardoner is revealed as he manipulates the pilgrims by guilt tripping them into buying phony relics for indulgences to achieve redemption. 

The Pardoner’s sermon contains grotesque imagery as it illustrates the corrupt nature of the rioters to achieve the effect of self-condemnation upon the congregation. The Pardoner incorporates grotesque imagery in his sermon to reveal the effects of the rioters indulging themselves in pleasures before rashly pursuing Death. He preaches, “a man who swills down vintages in fact makes a mere privy of his throat, a sink for cursed superfluities of drink”. This Pardoner illustrates an image of a ravenous rioter swigging down alcohol to depict the image of humanity being consumed by evils. He continues to describe the effects of gluttony by stating, “Their belly! Whose ending is destruction,” to reveal that being consumed by evil is equivalent to perishing and attaining no salvation. This compares to the tale of the rioters who guzzle alcohol in a celebratory manner for killing the youngest rioter and gaining a fortune of gold. Shortly after the two oldest rioters consume the beverage, they are met with death since the youngest rioter poisoned the alcoholic drink. The Pardoner describes the perishing rioters in graphic imagery as they “wither in, flesh and blood and skin” to illustrate the image of a decaying body. The underlying meaning of this quote reveals that committing one of the seven deadly sins results in a painful and gory death. 

Chaucer presents the Pardoner as a crooked character through the art of rhetoric. The Pardoner deceives the pilgrims by preaching a sermon about a few of the seven deadly sins to make the congregation feel bad and pay for indulgences to be Chaucer utilizes the Pardoner’s devilish ways to display the pilgrim’s blind trust in the pompous preacher. During the medieval era, a pardoner’s sermon “used many examples to enhance the impact that his preaching has upon the audience… and would have strong faith that would extend to the men of God that he uses great examples to strengthen his argument”. The utilization of a swindling Pardoner reveals the deceptive nature of the Catholic Church since pardoners were dispatched to obtain profits from indulgences and relics for the Church’s income. This reveals that the sins of gluttony and drunkenness were rampant during Chacuer’s era. By illustrating a deceptive character, Chaucer exhibits humanity’s loss of morals due to possessing a sinful lifestyle. 

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Analysis Of Chaucer’s Depiction Of Pardoner In The Pardoner’s Tale. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 4, 2022, from
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