From the moment our mind’s eye sets upon the Pardoner, Chaucer made no secret of the obvious falseness of the character introduced in his description.Â His high-pitched voice, lack of facial hair, and the glazing over being a eunuch are clear signs of his lack of manliness.Â Chaucer’s blatant distaste for the Pardoner is intentionally set up to make the audience uncomfortable, even more so when the Pardoner recounts shamelessly how he abuses both his title and human faith.Â What it all boils down to, however, is the Pardoner is a necessary evil.
After examining the Knight earlier on in The General Prologue of ‘The Canterbury Tales,’ the reader can immediately draw deeper conclusions about the Pardoner from the vastly opposing clothing description and hints at their vanity. For although the Knight had money enough to afford good horses, he dressed down and wore clothing soiled by his trade: “bismotered with his haubergeoun” (76).Â The Pardoner, on the flip side, seems to barely afford himself quality grooming yet he “thoughte he rood al of the newe jet” (685).Â His faux superiority leads the reader to no surprise that his “relics” are falsities as well.
IfÂ we glean over a selection of the Pardoner’s ‘holy relics’…
- Vernicle sewn to his cap
- Pig bones in a glass
- Stone-filled brass cross
- Laton covered sheep (of Jesus!) shoulder
There is one common element each of these have in relation with the others as well as with their carrier.Â Any guesses?Â Although each have the appearance of value and credibility on the outside, just beneath the surface they are often disgusting (rotting animal carcass anyone?) and always false.Â Even his credited ‘bulles and patente seel,’ further masking of his fraud, could be faked for all that’s truly known.Â Lamb-like faithfulness keeps the majority blissfully ignorant, or so the Pardoner describes, and though it may be foolish of the people he preaches to, he dons his Jesus adorned cap (interesting how a serpentine preacher wears the visage of Jesus so closely to his own face…) just as willingly as they eat up his “truths.”
Despite all this, the Pardoner has one (perhaps) saving grace: he admits to his own fraud and that he is evil for doing so, “for myn entente is nat but for to winne, and no thing for correccion of sinne” (114-15), he makes no qualms of what he wants nor the trickery he commits to acquire it.Â He dictates that his sermon’s theme is continuously: avarice is the root of all evil.Â As unchanging as his discourse, his avarice is cause for a great deal of evil that he commits and would commit – he has no low he would not stoop to.
For both Chaucer’s overall case of the Pardoner and as well for the Pardoner’s own case within the poem, the Pardoner works best as a mediator for the audience to gauge and/or reign in their own vices and/or ignorance.Â The Pardoner, knowingly villainous, commits blasphemous fraud while ridding others of their worldly possessions while bringing them closer to God – even though it isn’t through the mediums he proposes. Altogether, the Pardoner unarguably performs his job, however dastardly, well.