The Pardoners Tale Essay, Research Paper
The Pardoner s Greed
The pardoner, in Geoffrey Chaucer s The Pardoner s Tale, is a devious character. He is a man with a great knowledge of the Catholic Church and a great love of God. However, despite the fact that he is someone whom is looked at with respect at the time, the pardoner is nothing more than an imposter who makes his living by fooling people into thinking he forgives their sins, and in exchange for pardons, he takes their money. His sermon-like stories and false relics fool the people of the towns he visits and make him seem as a plausible man, which is exactly what the pardoner wants. In fact, the pardoner is an avaricious and deceitful character whose driving force in life is his motto, Radix malorum est cupiditas, which is Latin for greed is the root of evil. The pardoner s entire practice is based upon his motto and is motivated entirely by greed.
The pardoner is supposed to forgive sins, however, he views his position as a scheme to make money and turns it into a fraud. His excellent speaking skills allow him to turn this profession into a scam. He attracts the people with his storytelling and his sermons, which are pleasing to them, By God, I hope I shal yow telle a thyng / That shal by reson been at youre liking, (457-58). One example of a sermon about his motto is the tale of the three rioters. This tale gives an ironic explanation related to the rioters deaths, due to greed and the pardoners practice of his profession, which is also driven by greed (Rossignol, 267). He tells the people what they would like to hear, so that he may pull them into his trap and later cheat them out of their money. His technique to fooling people is to preach on the subject of Radix malorum est cupiditas . Since his living depends on the people s response to the sermon, the pardoner must make it both convincing and entertaining: Thanne telle I hem ensamples many oon / Of olde stories longe tyme agoon / For lewed peple loven tales olde; / Swiches thynges kan they wel reporte and holde, (435-38). When the pardoner is through with his tale, he does not forget to remind the congregation about making their offering to him, so that they may protect themselves from avarice and against sin. The pardoner shows no sign of sympathy or remorse towards his acts upon those whom he cheats. This is one of the many greedy tricks that the pardoner performs to fool and steal from the people.
Besides being a great storyteller and speaker, the pardoner is also a wonderful actor, complete with convincing props to deceive the congregation with. He preaches and tells the people about the power of his relics, which in fact are fakes. Many of his relics were actually the bones of dead animals, such as pigs, which he claimed to be the bones of dead saints, and gloves, which, he claimed, would help crops grow if worn when planting them (Pichaske, 131). The pardoner claims that his relics have the power to forgive sinners of both the punishment due to sin and the guilt of sin itself (Hussey, 177). The people believe the pardoners words and quickly pay to be pardoned, in return the pardoner hands them one of his fake relics. The pardoner quickly and happily accepts their offerings without first seeing if there is any repentance in the people. This goes to show just how uninterested in the people the pardoner is and how he is only interested in the offerings he receives. Those who buy the pardons, mistake what is material (the relic), for what is nonmaterial, which, in this case, is God s forgiveness (Rossignol, 270). Due to the people s ignorance, the pardoner refers to the congregation from which he receives his money, as stupid and describes them as his apes , or fools in The General Prologue. The pardoner is not at all ashamed to say that he does not care a fig about the state of their souls, but only about their pocketbooks, (Rossignol, 268), in The General Prologue. His main concern is greed, rather than salvation of those who come to him seeking it. What the pardoner is doing is committing a sin, and he is very aware of it himself. The pardoner has let the greed drive him away from God s ways and is following his avaricious feelings.
The Pardoner has argued that from evil intention may come good, and being evil himself, he might inspire some good in others, (Pichaske, 130), however, it is evident that the pardoner s preaching and deeds do no good to the people. The fact that good may often come from evil does not , however, excuse one who preaches against that same vice which characterizes his own action , (Pichaske, 127). The pardoner preaches against avarice, while he himself practices it during his sermons and false pardons. The pardoner is so intrigued with avarice that he becomes blind to the evil that he is committing while he preaches about it. The blindness explains why he is able to speak about avarice and how it kills, while he also is living a life that is under the control of avarice (Rossignol, 270). The pardoner is unable to see his mistakes and therefore, he is unable to stop sinning because of his passion for greed. Greed has taken over the pardoner; his actions and his words show this in the text, But alderbest he song an offertorie; / For wel he wiste, whan that song was songe, / He moste preche and wel affile his tongue / To wynne silver, as he ful wel koude, (General Prologue, 710-13). He shows no sympathy for his shameful exploitation of the ignorant and pious and continues to be a hypocrite. His actions of greed lead to other sins, as his motto says, Radix malorum est cupiditas, such as pride. If you know that you are sinning against what is right and continue doing it that is the deadliest sin of all (Hussey, 183). The pardoner realizes that he has become a hypocrite and has let the avarice control him.
Therefore, the pardoner cannot stop sinning because the avarice has taken control over him and leads him into more sin. The pardoner himself becomes the very symbol of avarice. The pardoner preaches against avarice to the congregation in order to feed his own avarice (Brewer, 201). He continues to love God, however, he also continues to sin against Him, due to the greed that drives him. The pardoner s immoral actions towards the pious people of the town are proof that he has no sympathy towards them, and that his greed pushes him to do everything possible to receive their money. The pardoner s continual hunger for greed does not allow him to stop sinning. His desire for money leads him to becoming a totally avaricious personality. From his avarice comes the deceitfulness that he uses on the congregation as he exploits them for his living. The pardoner submits himself to his theme of Radix malorum est cupiditas. His theme becomes a reality and he allows avarice to take control his life. Just as Jesus lived life living into eternal life, the pardoner lives his life dying into eternal death by committing his avaricious acts and deceiving people in the name of God.
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Hussey, S. S. The Canterbury Tales II.
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Pichaske, David R. Pardoner s Tale.
The Movement of the Canterbury Tales: Chaucer s Literary Pilgrimage.
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Rossignol, Rosalyn. The Pardoner s Tale.
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