What you see is what you get

First and foremost, I have absolutely no knowledge of religion what so ever, so my understanding is very limited, and perhaps incorrect. This is partially why I decided to stay away from focusing on religious aspects.  However, I did find an interest in examining the Pardoners appearance.  We know all that the Pardoner himself acts completely opposite to what he preaches, but does his appearance have any significance to his actions? Or is his appearance contrary to how he acts?

To begin, what is a Pardoner? Before reading The Canterbury Tales, the Oxford English Dictionary website became my best friend.  The way I understood it was, the Pardoner job included, pardoning people of their sins, the selling of relics, and preaching.  In other words, as a Pardoner he has a very important job. When I close my eyes and attempt to imagine what a Pardoner would or should look like, the description that Chaucer gives does not match what I imagined.  My close reading begins on page 259 starting on line 677, where Chaucer describes the Pardoner. The Pardoner is an individual with hair “as yellow as wex” (677), thin and laying as “colpons/strands” (681), eyes described as “swiche glarynge eyen hadde he as an hare” (686), with a voice “as small/ highpitched as hath a goot/ goat” (690).  The description we are given for the Pardoner, in a way dehumanizes him while comparing him to animals. Oddly enough, his actions match that of a thief. In other words, not working hard for your money, but so easily getting/ stealing it from others. For example, the Pardoner feels no shame in taking money from a poor widow and her children suffering from famine even though the Pardoner  gets “more moneye than that the person gat in months” [705-06]. While having no remorse for those below him in the social rank, it makes me wonder what the Pardoner’s thoughts on God actually are.

Although I have not read other sections of The Canterbury Tales, I wonder how the other characters are described in comparison to the Pardoner.  After analyzing the Pardoner as a character overall, I believe that there is a strong correlation between his actions and his appearance. What you see is what you get!

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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3 Responses to What you see is what you get

  1. rubyalsharaf says:


    I found your post extremely thoughtful and provocative. I found the Pardoner’s appearance interesting but I had never thought of how that might correlate with his actions as you mentioned. When I first read the description of the Pardoner’s appearance I thought that he was described as innocent because of the way he is said to look somewhat like a eunuch. I took this as the Pardoner manipulating others with his approachable appearance; that such a man would not take advantage of others in the way that he [the Pardoner] does. However, I like how you interpreted his appearance as a reflection of his actions. Nice work!

  2. jddieu says:

    Hey Carly,

    You suggested the consideration of the purpose and significance of the pardoner’s appearance within the tale, insinuating that such vile and repulsive visage seems contrary to a righteous, pious agent of God. If indeed the pardoner is a devout and saintly messenger, able to forgive sins in the name of God then it seems imperative that his appearance also equally exude the same essence of purity. However, this dichotomy between motive and action, thought and deed, truth and facades seem to stem from Chaucer’s employment of thematic devices; in portraying villains through their devious dualities and double-mindedness. Or furthermore, perhaps, Chaucer is simply referring to common archetypical depictions of criminals and the bad guy, illustrating them as ugly, revolting fiends. You also proposed the idea that the pardoner might not even believe in God, but merely uses it as a tool, to heist wealth from desperate and unsuspecting victims, of which view I concur. In conjuncture with appearances and actions, perhaps it is more effective and more malevolent for the pardoner to have been a stately, handsome, contrary to his deeds; the concept that things aren’t always as they seem.

    John Dieu

  3. nicolericher says:

    Your post was insightful and enjoyable to read. I hadn’t really thought of the Pardoner as being animalistic, as you had mentioned, but after having them pointed out with well selected quotes I find it a striking and accurate metaphor. In paying particular attention to the goat comparison I decided to look it up (I found the 2nd and 3rd definitions quite amusing…)

    Goat (http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/goat)
    1 – a hardy domesticated ruminant mammal that has backward-curving horns and (in the male) a beard. It is kept for its milk and meat, and noted for its lively behaviour.

    2 – a lecherous man.

    3 – British informal a stupid person; a fool.

    4 – US a scapegoat.

    An amusing comparison indeed, do you suppose this meaning was also intended as an interpretation of Chaucer’s Pardoner? What alternate meanings do you suppose could be hiding in the Pardoner’s hare? (Struggling for a pun…)

    Great post Carly!

    – Nicole

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