Do as I Say, Not as I Do.

A very odd man, this Pardoner is.

We get a description of him as this old, stringy-haired man (lines 677-684, page 259), and immediately this seems odd…from the description, I’m picturing this guy:

…minus the beard, I suppose. Hm, not exactly what I imagine when I think of a religious figure. Nonetheless, we press on. The relics he carries are mainly the type of things that he would need to justify–A pillowcase, a piece of a sail, pig’s bones in a jar–along with a more self-explanatory relic: a brass cross.

It seems too appropriate that the Pardoner himself is this man with “A vois … as [high-pitched] as hath a [goat]…”(line 690, page 260). However, Chaucer tells us that the Pardoner’s good at what he does…and by good I mean he reaps every benefit of his work.

At this point I became suspicious if this was truly a Pardoner or just a man posing as one.

But once we hear the prologue of the Pardoner, his gift of the ‘silver tongue’ becomes clear. He has a way with words that makes people want to believe. He preys on the naivete of the people; telling them grand tales.

This man doesn’t mind lying outright, and he has often used his position of power to save himself. It’s interesting to note, however, that he will only lie to a certain extent. He mentions in line 159 that he won’t go as far as to imitate the Apostles but he will tell stories about a soup of brass water resolving infidelity issues. From this, I gathered that his relics are his shield against any that try to stop his–very outright–greed.


His sermons, if you will, are centered around greed being the source of evil. Meanwhile, he admits that his own greed is fed by those trying to free themselves from their greed:

“For myn entente is nat but forr to winne,
And no thing for correccion of sinne…” (lines 115-116, page 313)

In this way, the Pardoner uses his relics as tools of his trade: He tells a great story, people give him stuff.

The Pardoner is a fascinating character, because to the passer-by the man could pass as homeless, but if anyone tried to harass him he had his relics and his papers to defend himself. The man tells us that he (metaphorically) cuts down any who try to challenge him in his authority (lines 125-128, page 314). I feel like his relics are a reflection of how he can use his gifts, regardless of his appearance to create such a strong defence for himself. He must have a hell of a poker face.

Works Cited:

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Norton Anthology of  English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9thed. Vol. A. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., Inc., 2012. 259-260; 310-315. Print.

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One Response to Do as I Say, Not as I Do.

  1. mkennedy says:

    The dichotomy of the Pardoner’s actions vs. his supposed position in the church is one of my favourite aspects in this work. It highlights the often controversial intentions and actions of religious men, and their actual intended purpose. The Catholic church was rife with corruption during its heyday and the Pardoner’s Tale is an excellent showcase of this. His ‘silver tongue’ no doubt is his greatest tool, as he does indeed seem to ‘prey’ on the people he preaches to, using his relics as proof. The idea that his appearance was not attractive, and he still managed to swindle and charm people into giving him money for his services, is an intriguing one. Did he have a harder time convincing people of his legitimacy, or perhaps an easier one? Maybe his less than good looks actually made him seem like less shallow, and more likely to be a man of god. Of course, that was not the case at all, but it may have disarmed his listeners allow them to trust his intentions when perhaps they should not have.

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