Everyone has told lies, and anyone who tells you they havenâ€™t is lying. Whether itâ€™s a young child trying to absolve their guilt over eating forbidden cookies, or an adult just trying to spare someone’s feelings, lying is inherent in the human condition. But where is the line drawn between a good or acceptable lie and a bad, abhorrent one? And how important are the intentions of the liar?
In Chaucerâ€™s The Pardonerâ€™s Prologue and Tale the Pardoner seems a repugnant and morally corrupt individual. This is compounded by his role as church employee tasked with forgiving others of their sins, which in many cases were likely much less severe than his. I found lines 160-173, starting on page 314 particularly telling of his moral compass.
The Pardoner seems absolutely chuffed with the fact that he can manipulate the â€œlewedâ€ people out of their money. To him, it seems not to matter their social status, or what importance that money may have in their lives. He is perfectly fine with taking money from even the most destitute, including â€œthe poorest widwe in a villageâ€ (l.162).
It is interesting that the Pardoner thinks himself particularly adept at lying, and seems eminently proud of this fact. Most people, today and in the time of Chaucer, would consider the Pardonerâ€™s brand of lying and story-weaving quite depraved. He takes advantage of those ignorant to his real intentions, and uses his own ingenuity and speaking skills to take money from others under the guise of religious forgiveness. It is this religious aspect that strikes a chord in his story. As a representative of the church and, one would hope, practicing member, it only makes sense the Pardoner should be held to a certain level of morality. However, and this is almost surely intentional on Chaucerâ€™s part, the Pardoner seems almost the anti-thesis to what he should be.
But is the Pardonerâ€™s lying completely appalling? His stories arguably help people lead more moral lives. As well, when he “pardons” someone, he is removing the guilt they have carried. Would it matter if the pardoner wove these complex lies and stories if his intentions were “good?” What if he truly was attempting to reform people with his tales and fake relics, and not extort money? It is the same lie, just with different intentions. Does the Pardoner get any credit for being honest about himself? He calls himself “a ful vicious man” (l.171) and describes numerous times his various nefarious acts. Whether you consider the Pardoner a terrible man, or a cunning one, his greed and lies are starkly contrasted with his favourite sermon “radix malorum est cupiditas” or “avarice is the root of all evil.” If only he listened to his own advice!
Chaucer, Geoffrey.Â The Canterbury Tales.Â Norton Anthology of Â English Literature.Â Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9thÂ ed. Vol. A. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., Inc., 2012. 314-315. Print.