“Radix Malorum est Cupiditas,” Indeed.

Upon finishing my reading of the Pardoner’s prologue, tale, and epilogue, I must admit that my ideas concerning the relationship between the Pardoner’s story and the phony relics he uses to sell absolution were scattered, to say the least. In an attempt to push beyond my established perception of the shady, untrustworthy blonde described by Chaucer in the General Prologue however, I forced myself to look beyond what I wanted to see and look to what I felt Chaucer was showing me. There were three thought processes as I established a balance in my perceptions of the Pardoner’s fake relics, as well as his stories and advice, which I have detailed below (with definitions included as links, as I wasn’t certain about what some meant).

The Pardoner employs the illusions he has created in his relics to exploit the faithful in an attempt to build his material wealth, his story is told in order to preach against that same practice. While the irony in this contradiction does, in fact, make him the religious hypocrite that I imagine Chaucer was endeavouring to create, I would also argue that the way in which the Pardoner treats and views the relics, are a direct embodiment of the conflicts that led to the demise of the the three men in his story.

The Relics

In beginning his story in the prologue the Pardoner reveals all of his slippery methods. He states exactly what he does, what it is to accomplish, how he perceives the people to react, and (exactly) why he does it. The Pardoner admits his true intentions of using the relics when he says, “For myn entent is nat but for to winne, And no thing for correccion of sinne (313.115-116).” As though this were not disturbing enough of a confession, he continues on to say not only that he is unconcerned with whether their souls go to heaven or hell, but also that in exploiting their material wealth (or lack of), he would have:

“moneye, wolle, cheese, and whete,

Al were it yiven of the poorest page,

Or of the porrests widwe in a village-

Al sholde hir children sterve for famine (314.160-163)

All the while, he has told us that his main message always revolves around the same message: Radix malorum est cupiditas…’Avarice is the root of evil.’ Although it is hard to miss the blatant irony with which Chaucer has painted this picture, there is something more profound in the relics. The Pardoner’s treatment of the relics, his crystal jars, the brass encased shoulder-bone of one of Jesus’ sheep, and the cross embedded with ‘rare’ stones, is representative of all the aspects he endeavors to strike down in his tale.

The Tale

Throughout the first portion of The Tale, the Pardoner establishes each of the immoral practices he attempts to teach the pilgrims to reject through his tale. Among these, the ones that I believe must be highlighted are avarice or greed in general and, as he says, “deceite and cursed foreswerings, / Blaspheme of Crist, manslaughtre…Of Catel and of time (318.304-306).” I believe that these deserve mention, as they are among those most clearly noted through his tale of the ‘riotoures three.” For example, of greed, the Pardoner tells us:

al this gold departed be,

My dere freend, bitwixe thee and me.

Thanne we may bothe oure lustes al fulfille,

And thus accorded been thise shrewes twaye

To sleen the thridde, as ye han herd me saye. (322.543-548)


Another example is of his advice that men should not drink, as a part of their practice of gluttony:

And with that word it happed him par cas

To take the botel ther the poison was,

And drank, and yaf his felawe drinke also,

For anoon they storven bothe two. (324.597-600)

As it turns out, because of their habit of drinking (as noted by the fact that the story begins with the three men sitting in a tavern), they end up bringing upon themselves a painful death. Taking into account that all three of the men had been brought to their deaths by their own greed and avarice, the message of perjury the Pardoner relays through the message is seen in the breaking of the oath that they swore prior to their journey, to be as a band of brothers.

The point?

At the end of the Pardoner’s tale, the final passage is the key to what brought my whole idea of together. The last portion of the tale, before entering into The Epilogue, is not in the setting that the story of the three men took place, but in the Pardoner’s own voice. As the first half of The Tale, in the Pardoner’s own voice, describes the aspects that he sets out to establish as evil, it is interesting that Chaucer had added what the Pardoner says in the last portion of the tale that immediately follows the vices of the three men. By placing this portion of the Pardoner’s tale in this section of the story, one of the immoral practices listed above that were not mentioned directly in the tale of the men, are still noted on as a part of the tale. The Pardoner’s beckoning to the other Pilgrims who are listening to his story to

offre nobles or sterlings,

Or elles silver brooches, spoones, ringes.

Boweth your heed under this holy bulle! 

So graunte you his pardon to receive, 

For that is best – I owl you nat deceive. (324.619-620, 629-630).

Having admitted that his methods of obtaining wealth from the poor and faithful primarily involved deceit, the Pardoner commits one of the evils he condemns through his story. By using his relics, and his papal bulls for material gain and monetary wealth, the Pardoner has committed an act of blasphemy. Furthermore, as a man who is supposed to be religious and righteous in his actions, by treating the relics in the way that he has, the Pardoner has essentially broken his oath as acting on God’s behalf by sharing his generous forgiveness thus also committing perjury.

By using his relics in the way that he does, and manipulating the spiritual needs of the faithful, he is representative of the three men in his tale. His treatment of the relics allows him to act on his greed at the cost of his religious fellows, to successfully deceive them into giving him what he wants, to break his oaths thus perjuring himself, to take from the poorest people and be nonchalant about the dying starved children,  and to engage in the blasphemy of the very thing his job is to enrich. In this way, the Pardoner has done all the things that the three men have done in his tale, although to a differing degree and context. Perhaps to Chaucer, he is not only an ironic example of avarice, but an image of it that is even more ideal than three drunken, murderous and greedy men, who have not built their careers on illusions of their holiness.

This entry was posted in 1: DQ Response, {G3}. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply