What Segment of Society Does Chaucer Examine with the Pardoner in The Canterbury Tales?

Updated 28 August, 2023
Chaucer's exploration of the Pardoner in "The Canterbury Tales" delves into the segment of society represented by the clergy. Through this character, Chaucer exposes religious hypocrisy, avarice, and moral decay, offering a critical lens into the corruption prevalent within the Church during the Middle Ages.
Detailed answer:

In Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales," the character of the Pardoner offers a comprehensive exploration of a specific segment of society, namely the clergy, while addressing broader themes of religious hypocrisy, greed, and moral decay.

The Pardoner, a member of the clergy, is an embodiment of moral corruption and spiritual dishonesty. His prologue and tale reveal his manipulative nature as he indulges in the practice of selling fake relics and pardons to unsuspecting people seeking salvation. His disregard for the spiritual significance of his role exposes the hypocrisy prevalent within the religious institution of his time.

Chaucer's portrayal of the Pardoner serves as a critique of the corruption within the Church during the Middle Ages. In the prologue, the Pardoner openly admits his greed for money: "My theme is alwey oon and evere was - / Radix malorum est Cupiditas" (The root of evil is greed). This sentiment encapsulates his character's moral bankruptcy, highlighting the pervasive influence of worldly desires within the clergy.

Furthermore, the Pardoner's tale, the story of three rioters seeking Death, reflects his own avarice and moral depravity. The tale becomes a morality lesson that ironically exposes his own hypocrisy, as he manipulates the story to achieve his personal gain. His tale serves as an allegory for the dangers of avarice and serves to underscore the Pardoner's own self-serving motives.

Through the Pardoner, Chaucer offers a scathing commentary on the corrupt practices of certain members of the clergy and the erosion of spiritual values in the medieval Church. The Pardoner's hypocrisy and greed serve as a mirror to the moral decay that existed within this segment of society during the time of "The Canterbury Tales."

In conclusion, Geoffrey Chaucer examines the clergy and the broader theme of religious hypocrisy and greed through the character of the Pardoner in "The Canterbury Tales." This literary examination highlights the pervasive moral corruption within the Church and society of the Middle Ages, providing a critical lens through which to view the complex interactions between spirituality, morality, and personal gain.

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