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The Rich Diversity of Meanings of the Pardoner's Tale

Powerful Essays
The Rich Diversity of Meanings of the Pardoner's Tale

Chaucer’s innovation in the Pardoner’s performance tests our concept of dramatic irony by suggesting information regarding the Pardoner’s sexuality, gender identity, and spirituality, major categories in the politics of identity, without confirming that information. Our presumed understanding of the Pardoner as a character lacks substantiation. As we learn about the Pardoner through the narrator’s eyes and ears, we look to fit the "noble ecclesiaste" (l. 708) into the figure shaped by our own prejudices and perceptions, as any active reader must do. But the Pardoner, ever aware of his audience, does not offer clear clues to his personality. This break between what the other characters say about the Pardoner and what the Pardoner says about himself has been a major source of tension for all readers of the Tales and especially critics who search for substantiation of their views beyond the Chaucer’s own language. The general tone of the Canterbury Tales is comic. After all, the pilgrims are traveling to the shrine St. Thomas Beckett in a public act of holy reverence, but the Tales take a darker turn when the Pardoner is brought to the foreground. The whole Canterbury Tales is a collected set of performances, stories told about telling stories. As Joseph Ganim has written, theatricality, by which he means "a governing sense of performance, an interplay among the author’s voice, his fictional characters, and his immediate audience," is "a paradigm for the Chaucerian poetic" (5). This paper shall endeavor to show that the major effect of the Pardoner’s presence in the Tales is to focus the reader’s attention to questions of performance and performativity, literary perception, ...

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...University of California Press, 1988.

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