Pardoners in the Middle Ages

1035 Words5 Pages
Though told by a self-confessed liar and hypocrite, the tale has a

powerful moral and imaginative effect. How far do you agree with this

view of the text?

Chaucer’s pardoner is an enigmatic, paradoxical figure, both

intriguing yet repulsive. From the very beginning of his Prologue the

Pardoner makes no attempts to hide his “ypocrise,” instead taking a

perverse pleasure in the extent of his corruption. As seen in the

portrait of the Monk in The General Prologue, Chaucer allows the

Pardoner to condemn himself. He purposely reveals his methods of

extracting money from” the povereste widwe in a village” his contempt

for his usual audience of “lewed peple” and complete disregard for the

doctrines of the Church. The Pardoner’s blatant hypocrisy is most

evident in the theme of his sermons: “Radix malorum est Cupiditas.”

The irony of this is fully evident when he later announces “I preche

nothing but for coveitise.”

During the Middle Ages pardoners were infamous for being “frauds,

libertines and drunkards” (Charles Moseley). At first glance Chaucer’s

Pardoner seems true to type, he is the one called upon for “som mirthe

or japes,” the worst is immediately expected of him; we see the

“gentils” beg “lat him telle us of no ribaudye.” However, Chaucer’s

pardoner is more psychologically complex. The Pardoner is neither a

preacher nor a priest yet he usurps these roles. Pardoners were

notorious for abusing their positions, mutating the spiritual into the

secular. Nevertheless, he is a magnificent orator, articulate and

intelligent he is able to manipulate his audience, and what is even

more sinister is he knows what kind of effect he can have on people:

“For though myself be a ful vicious man,

A moral tale yet I...

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... to extract money from his audience, the tale is

morally beneficial to Chaucer’s contemporary audience; it shows the

extent to which values had become mutated. The Tale also has a lasting

resonance today; as we laugh at the humiliation of the pardoner by the

Host we overlook the fact that what we think of as inversion of values

in the Pardoner is in fact present in us, a modern-day audience.

Although it may have a moral effect on his usual “lewd” congregation,

the Pardoner’s sermon does not seem to have a moral effect on the

pilgrims as we see them simple continue on their way. They do not seem

to consider to the moral questions raised by the Pardoner; he touches

on issues such as the vices of gluttony, drunkenness and gambling

which several of the pilgrims are undoubtedly guilty of, and

contemporary issues such as death and the fallen nature of mankind.
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