Summary and Analysis of The Pardoner's Tale

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Summary and Analysis of The Pardoner's Tale (The Canterbury Tales)

Prologue to the Pardoner's Tale:

The Host thinks that the cause of Virginia's death in the previous tale was her beauty. To counter the sadness of the tale, the Host suggests that the Pardoner tell a lighter tale. The Pardoner delays, for he wants to finish his meal, but says that he shall tell a moral tale. He says that he will tell a tale with this moral: the love of money is the root of all evil. He claims that during his sermons he shows useless trifles that he passes off as saints' relics. He proudly tells about how he defrauds people who believed they have sinned. He states explicitly that his goal is not to save people from sin, but to gain money from them. The Pardoner says that he will not imitate the apostles in their poverty, but will have food, comfort, and a wench in every town.


Among the various pilgrims featured in the Canterbury Tales, the Pardoner is one of the most fully realized characters. The only character to whom Chaucer gives greater detail is the Wife of Bath. The Pardoner is a fraudulent huckster who shows no qualms about passing off false items as the relics of saints, but he also demonstrates a great sense of self-loathing. The Pardoner shifts from moments of direct honesty to shameless deceit, openly admitting the tricks of his trade to the travelers but nevertheless attempting to use these various methods on these travelers who are aware of his schemes. The Pardoner is in many senses a warped character, unable to hold to any consistent code of moral behavior. Even in his physicality he is deformed. The General Prologue, suggesting that the Pardoner resembles a 'gelding or a mare,' hints that the Pardoner may be a ...

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... only expression of any spirituality contained in the Pardoner's Tale. The Pardoner has little concern with actual religious matters and makes no real reference to Christianity. His concern is money, and the Christian religion is only the means to achieve this end.

The Tale itself is a relatively simplistic moral fable that hinges on the distinctions between literal and figurative language. The initial personification of death that the young child uses as a metaphor and euphemism leads to the actual physical manifestation of Death as a tangible object: the piles of gold that the three rioters find. The plot of the tale derives from the rioters' literal interpretation of euphemism ­ since death has taken their friend, they must find death. This personification of death finally becomes metaphor once again when the piles of gold represent the death that they find.
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