The Pardoner, A Symbol Of Greed In Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

648 words - 3 pages

Geoffrey Chaucer’s famous medieval classic, The Canterbury Tales, offers its readers a vast array of characters. This God’s plenty features numerous unique and challenging individuals, but there is one specifically who stands out as particularly interesting. The immoral Pardoner, who, in a sense, sells away his soul for the sake of his own avarice, puzzles many modern readers with his strange logic. Already having laid his considerable guilt upon the table, this corrupted agent of the Church attempts to pawn off his counterfeit relics for a generous price. His actions are slightly troubling and mysterious, but his shameless misdeed is easily explainable if a reader chooses to interpret the man as a symbol rather than a fully formed human character. The Pardoner is Chaucer’s vivid illustration of fourteenth century greed.
Many a scholar has categorized Chaucer’s work as satirical, and his tale of the Pardoner is, by far, no exception. In fact, it is quite ironic that this symbol of greed is personified as an agent of the Catholic Church—a supposedly pious institution built on abstinence from sin. However, this detail actually makes a great deal of sense, for the sale of indulgences presented countless “opportunities to profit at the expense of the naïve” (Hallissy 214). A dishonest clergyman could easily prey on the insecurities of the population in order to profit from the sale of false relics. The Pardoner, similarly, is only “fixed on what [he stands] to win” (PP 75). Perhaps this suggests that the corrupted character has little else on his mind, wishing only to cheat the devout and turn a greedy profit; he thinks of nothing but of his personal gain. He “won’t do any labor with [his] hands,” but his greedy heart intends to live the life of the most well-to-do (PP 114). The Pardoner’s sermons, preaching the ills of avarice, condemn the sin of which he is guiltiest.
“Radix malorum est cupiditas,” is the general theme of...

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