The Pardoner’s Tale: Use of Verbal and Situational Irony
In “The Pardoner’s Tale,” Geoffrey Chaucer masterfully frames an informal homily. Through the use of verbal and situational irony, Chaucer is able to accentuate the moral characteristics of the Pardoner. The essence of the story is exemplified by the blatant discrepancy between the character of the storyteller and the message of his story. By analyzing this contrast, the reader can place himself in the mind of the Pardoner in order to account for his psychology.
In the Prologue of the tale, the Pardoner clearly admits that he preaches for nothing but for the greed of gain. His sermons revolve around the biblical idea that “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Ironically, however, the Pardoner condemns the very same vice that he lives by, as he proclaims “avarice is the theme that I employ in all my sermons, to make the people free in giving pennies—especially to me”. Thus, covetousness is both the substance of his sermons as well as the mechanism upon which he thrives. He clearly states that repentance is not the central aim of his preaching, by mentioning “my mind is fixed on what I stand to win and not upon correcting sin”. Rather, his foremost intention is to acquire as many shillings as he can in exchange for his meaningless pardons. In this regard, one can argue that although the Pardoner is evil, he is not a dissembler. His psychology is clearly not guided by hypocrisy because he does not conceal his intentions under false pretences.
Chaucer clouds the genuine nature of the Pardoner’s psychology in ambiguity. Upon reading the tale, the reader is left to wonder whether or not the pardoner is simply speaking out of drunkenness, or if he is truly of a malicious character. With respect to the first condition, there is a possibility that the reason why he admits his intention in the Prologue is because he is drunk. However, evidently, such behavior is a common practice for the Pardoner. Thus, it is fair to say that he is prompted more by psychological tendencies than by drunkenness. With respect to the Pardoner’s character, had he been truly vindictive, he would not have...