More Reasons to Hate the Pardoner

We all know that the Pardoner is not exactly Mr. Virtue.  Others have highlighted his greasy appearance and his overwhelming hypocrisy, but it’s not just what the pardoner admits to doing that is horrible, but how he admits to doing so.  His manner of speech is so nonchalant and patronizing that he insults his audience, the church and those who attend church.  I chose lines 147-167 (p.314) of The Pardoners Prologue and Tale as an exemplar of this.

In the first part of this passage the Pardoner explains how “lewed peple loven tales olde-/Swich things can they wel reporte and holde” (149-150).  In the first line the Pardoner flat out insults the church going people by calling them “lewed,” or ignorant, but this insult is furthered in the second line.  The dash indicates that it is meant as an aside, one in which he suggests that people are essentially too stupid to remember anything besides a good story.  He is like a parent patronizing a small child and therefore claiming his superiority over the common people.

The lines following, dash any glimmer of hope that the listener/reader may have in the humanity of this man:

Nay, nay, I thought it never, trewely,

For I wol preche and begge in sondry landes;

I wol nat do no labour with mine hands,

Ne make baskettes and live therby,

By cause I wol nat beggen idelly.


Note the frequent use of the negative in this passage.  In line 154 alone it appears 3 times and is further accented by the use of caesura.  This repetition is another condescending technique.  It is as if the pardoner doubts his audience will understand him the first time, so he continues to proclaim his indecency.  Another example is in line 156, as he uses the double negative to exaggerate his laziness.  To finish off his roast, the Pardoner then insults the descent people of the world by claiming their occupation as “idel” (314.158).  (By this point I really hate the guy).  Surely other people in his party would have been offended, particularly by this last insult.  Why doesn’t anyone punch his lights out?

To top it off, the Pardoner alludes to the Apostles (159), presenting them as a foil to his own character.  The Apostles are men that gave up the material world and preached the word of God for the love of God, and the Pardoner admits to forsaking their example in favor of “moneye, wolle, cheese, and whete” (160).  Note how this line is longer than the ones proceeding, further exaggerating the pardoner’s wealth and conceited attitude.

Finally, towards the end of this passage the Pardoner abandons his gloating and changes the subject back to the tale he is to tell: “But herken, lordinges, in conclusioun” (166).  The frequent use of caesura slows this line down, setting it apart from the previous passage and drawing in the audience’s attention to what follows: “Youre liking is that I shal telle a tale” (167).  The first two words immediately led me to assume that the pardoner is again pandering to his audience.   This word choice, along with the pardoner’s earlier comment on storytelling, leads me to question the tale he is to tell.  Perhaps, (as Olivia suggested in response to Nicole’s blog) the whole tale is an elaborate trick to win the prize.  There is even the possibility that the pardoner has already used this tale to con his victims.  If so, will the other members of the party fall to his charisma as well? I sincerely hope they don’t.


Works Cited:

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Norton Anthology of  English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. A. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., Inc., 2012. 243-342. Print.

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2 Responses to More Reasons to Hate the Pardoner

  1. rubyalsharaf says:


    I really enjoyed how you focused specifically on the Pardoner’s diction and tone to portray the awfulness of his character. I also had not thought of how the Pardoner might have previously used the same story to con others as well as to simply “win the prize” as Olivia mentioned. When you mentioned the Apostles did you mean that the Pardoner is using them as an example to show how he differs from them? How I read that passage was that the Pardoner is saying that he does not want to imitate them, line 159, because he would rather live lavishly. I also really hope that none of the other party members did fall to his charisma and that he didn’t win that prize! I think the Host told him off pretty well in 325.660 – 665. 😀
    Awesome post!

  2. Stephanie Van Dewark says:

    Yes, when I mentioned the Apostles I believed that Chaucer was comparing the two to show how they differ. He’s essentially showing two different ends of the spectrum, with quintessential goodness of one side and the Pardoner on the other.

    Thanks! I appreciated your comments.

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