The Pardoner’s Tale: hypocrisy at its best

DQ:  Compare the Pardoner’s relics with his advice/stories.

To answer this discussion question, I examined the Pardoner’s relics separately from his advice.  Essentially, the Pardoner’s relics are fake representations of physical remains and souvenirs of Christian saints.  The Pardoner makes use of cheap objects such as “pigges bones”, “pilwe-beers”, and brass crosses to make ignorant and poor people pay for their sins (260.697 – 702).  And why does he do this?  Because the Pardoner preaches for only one purpose: “coveitise” or covetousness which is the envious eagerness of wanting to possess another’s belongings (314.136).  In this case, the Pardoner wishes to “winne gold and silver…al were it yiven of the pooreste page, or of the pooreste widwe” (314.152 – 162).  This is the purpose of his relics. I then separately examined the Pardoner’s advice and what he preaches to the ignorant population: “Radix malorum est cupiditas” or in other words – “avarice is the root of all evil” (312.46).  He repeatedly conveys this message yet what this message shares in common with the relics is that both are false.  The Pardoner admits to the “ypocrisye” of his preachings when he reveals this (314.122):

But though myself be gilty in that sinne,

Yit can I make other folk to twinne

From avarice, and sore to repente –

But that is nat my principal entente:

I preche no thing but for coveitise (314.141 – 145).

What the Pardoner is saying is that despite committing the sin of avarice himself he is also extremely well-crafted at telling others to behave otherwise.  The Pardoner’s character is the epitome of hypocrisy.  I found this as Chaucer’s way of questioning the Church during this time.  However, Chaucer appears to remain neutral with his technique of false humility:

But first I praye you of youre curteisye

That ye n’arette it nought my vilainye

…Who so shal telle a tale after a man

He moot reherce, as neigh as evere he can

…Al speke he nevere so rudeliche and large (260 – 261.727 – 736).

This statement put’s Chaucer in a neutral position because he is only relaying the exact qualities of the Pardoner through his [Chaucer] narrative voice rather than appearing as if he is criticizing.  Instead, Chaucer uses the character of the Host to make his opinion clear on what he thinks of the Pardoner and his relics:

Thou woldest make me kiss thyn olde breech

And swere it were a relik of a saint,

Though it were with thy fundament depeint (325.660 – 662).


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.

(relic) 2012

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

One Response to The Pardoner’s Tale: hypocrisy at its best

  1. Stephanie Van Dewark says:

    I think you are correct in that the character of the Pardoner is Chaucer’s way of critiquing the church, albeit in a satirical manner. But I never before thought of the way Chaucer distances himself from the character through his frame narrative. If the church were to ever question his actions, I can imagine him defending himself in a very similar manner to lines 726-736.

Leave a Reply