Men Han Ful Ofte More for Harm than Prow.

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.  His high-pitched voice, lack of facial hair, and the glazing over being a eunuch are clear signs of his lack of manliness.  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.  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).  The Pardoner, on the flip side, seems to barely afford himself quality grooming yet he “thoughte he rood al of the newe jet” (685).  His faux superiority leads the reader to no surprise that his “relics” are falsities as well.

If  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.  Any guesses?  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.  Even his credited ‘bulles and patente seel,’ further masking of his fraud, could be faked for all that’s truly known.  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.  He dictates that his sermon’s theme is continuously: avarice is the root of all evil.  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.  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.


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5 Responses to Men Han Ful Ofte More for Harm than Prow.

  1. bkmilne says:

    Reading your post was extremely enjoyable. I enjoyed the way you broke down the elements of the Pardoner’s relic’s in point form, it created a nice pause in your response, allowing the reader time to think about what you have already written, and what you will continue to write.
    The only real criticism I have is not about your analysis at all! I found it comprehensible, intriguing, and fully thought out. I just feel like your introducing paragraph puts words in Chaucer’s mouth (and I could be just nitpicking at word choice), by stating things such as “his blatant distaste is intentional” – though it may appear that way, it is not known and this can only be inferred from the reading.
    I’ll just end by saying again I enjoyed your analysis and actually feel like I learned something from it because of way you wrote it. Good work! =)

  2. OliviaH says:


    I think you did a good job on your blog! I agree with you that although the common element between the relics and the Pardoner’s preaching is falsity, the Pardoner admits to his fraud. I think you raised a good point: the “official” documents and the pope’s or bishop’s seal on his papal license could be a fraud as well. This makes me wonder whether or not the Pardoner is actually a Pardoner or not. When the Pardoner admits that he does not care what happens to the people, he says that “by this gaude have I have wonne, yeer by yeer (101). He uses trickery to help him promote falseness. He uses trickery in more than one occasion. He says that “an telle an hundred false japes more” (106). He is willing to tell lies and false information to get what he wants. This makes me think about him telling this tale. What if the whole tale about himself is a trick and is false like the relics and his preaching; it is to make the others believe it is true in order to win the prize of a free meal? He is after all, according to himself, “of avarice and of swich cursedness” (112).


    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. 243-342. Print.

  3. jenniferbist says:

    I think you did a good job with your analysis as everyone has already said. I also liked the quote you used for the title, I picked it out as well but I wasn’t sure how it could be used.
    I liked how you looked into his image and how it could be a sign of what Chaucer is telling us about the character, like his high voice or lack of facial hair. For some reason I didn’t quite take it in as much as I should have in terms of his masculinity. I wonder what Chaucer means by this, by making him appear so odd? Would it have been better to have him appear differently, or would that have taken away from his story? It was also interesting your comparisons to the Knight, with the Pardoner’s sense of “fashion” and “superiority” over the others. You made good points of how all these tiny facts about him can lead to a sense of “falseness”, even in simple things as his outer-appearance.
    I don’t think, though, that this man considers himself “evil”, as you said in your post. I believe he just doesn’t care either way. He’s sort of bold, and to me he is simply telling his story as he was, neither good nor bad, and we are just meant to listen in on who he was. This is supposed to be the “moral tale”, but I found it ironic that he says right before: “but I moot thinke upon som honeste thing whil that I drinke” (39-40). Funny.
    I also don’t that all this necessarily tells us that Chaucer detests this character, or was trying to make the audience feel uncomfortable, as you said. I was thinking the Pardoner was more like, an extreme look at those who take advantage of society by using their titles and ranks, and giving us an “inside” look and something to think about in trusting others. He is telling us something by being so extreme, though he doesn’t appear to be conscious of it. I do like what you said though, that one of his only “good” traits is sticking to his lines over and over again and admitting to it all. Somehow, that sort of honesty suits liars very well, makes him even more cunning. I don’t know about anyone else, but he sort of reminds me of an odd version of Harry Potter’s “Professor Lockhart”. I don’t know if that’s an accurate comparison though (lol). I suppose just his attitude and schemes to “winne”…
    Anyways, that’s all, good job on your post… C:

  4. Dane Thibeault says:


    Your commentary regarding the distinctions between narrative representation and reality are both provocative and insightful. Do you believe that it is possible that Chaucer aims to reflect a contempt or disregard for the institutions of religion within his own society, through ascribing traits of falsehood, deviance, and distortion to those who allegedly represent it? In other words, is Chaucer, in effect, slandering the clergy so prevalent in his time through visually representing it as grotesque or deprived of its masculinity(through his stylistic development of the character and appearance of the Pardoner within the text of The Canterbury Tales) and as possessing corrupted morals? Perhaps Chaucer serves to convey the extent to which the institutions of religion, and its various associated authorities, may manipulate those around them into compliance with their objectives, through the use of calculatedly contrived rhetoric and images, symbols, or items perceived as divine(such as the relics that the Pardoner’s possessions aim to replicate). Therefore, is Chaucer articulating that the church is equated to the Pardoner, in distorting the views of those in its proximity in return for purveying a sense of spiritual belonging or reprieve?

    An interesting aspect that one may observe, upon critical evaluation of The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale within The Canterbury Tales is the profound contrast in the ways in which figures endowed with religious authority are represented aesthetically within the poem, in comparison with older English literary texts, such as the heroic epic, Beowulf. For instance, throughout the duration of the plot of Beowulf, the protagonist Beowulf himself—the manifestation of valour, morality, and masculinity—is ascribed as a servant to the divine authority, more or less what the Pardoner is considered within The Canterbury Tales. Therefore, in juxtaposing the wretched countenance of the Pardoner to the romanticized attributes of Beowulf, two different representations of the institutions of religion are developed. Therefore, it can be inferred that the Beowulf author serves to propagate or promote the values of religion(through the character appeal of Beowulf), motivated by his own compliance to the establishment of Christianity, while Chaucer serves to criticize them(through equating them to the conniving of the Pardoner), motivated perhaps by disillusionment with the influential clergy of his time period. A question then, in response to such speculations, would be: what happened to the Christian religion and the Church between the time of its development during the Anglo Saxon era, and the time in which Chaucer contrived his literary works?

    Thus, a final consideration for reflection may be posed: Is the devious character of The Pardoner, in effect, a manifestation of Chaucer’s potential conviction that the institutions of the Christian religion have declined in credibility since their conception, and have been rendered a medium for corruption and manipulation, aimed at material prosper? Regards,

    -Dane Thibeault

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