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Pardoners In The Middle Ages Essay

935 words - 4 pages

Though told by a self-confessed liar and hypocrite, the tale has a
powerful moral and imaginative effect. How far do you agree with this
view of the text?

Chaucer’s pardoner is an enigmatic, paradoxical figure, both
intriguing yet repulsive. From the very beginning of his Prologue the
Pardoner makes no attempts to hide his “ypocrise,” instead taking a
perverse pleasure in the extent of his corruption. As seen in the
portrait of the Monk in The General Prologue, Chaucer allows the
Pardoner to condemn himself. He purposely reveals his methods of
extracting money from” the povereste widwe in a village” his contempt
for his usual audience of “lewed peple” and complete disregard for the
doctrines of the Church. The Pardoner’s blatant hypocrisy is most
evident in the theme of his sermons: “Radix malorum est Cupiditas.”
The irony of this is fully evident when he later announces “I preche
nothing but for coveitise.”

During the Middle Ages pardoners were infamous for being “frauds,
libertines and drunkards” (Charles Moseley). At first glance Chaucer’s
Pardoner seems true to type, he is the one called upon for “som mirthe
or japes,” the worst is immediately expected of him; we see the
“gentils” beg “lat him telle us of no ribaudye.” However, Chaucer’s
pardoner is more psychologically complex. The Pardoner is neither a
preacher nor a priest yet he usurps these roles. Pardoners were
notorious for abusing their positions, mutating the spiritual into the
secular. Nevertheless, he is a magnificent orator, articulate and
intelligent he is able to manipulate his audience, and what is even
more sinister is he knows what kind of effect he can have on people:

“For though myself be a ful vicious man,
A moral tale yet I yow telle kan.”

His tale has a more lasting, profound effect on his audience than that
of the pious Parson, whose sermon only succeeds in boring the
pilgrims, proving that talent does not always rely on faith in one’s

Of course, we have to bear in mind that while the pilgrims hear the
Pardoner’s rhetorical skills we hear Chaucer’s skill as a poet. In his
digression the Pardoner melodramatically denounces a number of sins,
making extensive use of rhetorical devices such as hyperbole, anaphora
and apostrophe:

“ O glotonye, ful of cursednesse!

O cause first of oure confusioun!

O original of oure dampnacioun.”

He seems to use these to involve and unnerve his audience and
effectively keep all eyes on him. He alludes to both the Bible and
classical mythology, citing Biblical prophets, historical figures and

In contrast the tale itself is relatively plainly told and we can
safely assume that the Pardoner is well practiced in the art of
telling this specific tale and even inserts some of his sermon into
it. His sermon is based on several medieval conventions, such as that
of the mysterious old man, whom Dr. McIntyre identifies as a
“representation of the immanence and...

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