The Tale of the Pardoner in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

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A Look at the Pardoner: the Genius of Chaucer

The Canterbury Tales is a literary masterpiece in which the brilliant author Geoffrey Chaucer sought out to accomplish various goals. Chaucer wrote his tales during the late 1300’s. This puts him right at the beginning of the decline of the Middle Ages. Historically, we know that a middle class was just starting to take shape at this time, due to the emerging commerce industry. Chaucer was able to see the importance and future success of the middle class, and wrote his work with them in mind. Knowing that the middle class was not interested in lofty philosophical literature, Chaucer wrote his work as an extremely comical and entertaining piece that would be more interesting to his audience. Also, Chaucer tried to reach the middle class by writing The Canterbury Tales in English, the language of the middle class rather than French, the language of the educated upper class. The most impressive aspect of Chaucer’s writing is how he incorporated into his piece some of his own controversial views of society, but yet kept it very entertaining and light on the surface level. One of the most prevalent of these ideas was his view that certain aspects of the church had become corrupt. This idea sharply contrasted previous Middle Age thought, which excepted the church’s absolute power and goodness unquestionably. He used corrupt church officials in his tales to illustrate to his audience that certain aspects of the church needed to be reformed. The most intriguing of these characters was the Pardoner. Chaucer’s satirical account of the Pardoner is written in a very matter-of-fact manner that made it even more unsettling with his audience. Chaucer uses his straightforwardness regarding the hypocrisy of the Pardoner, suggestive physiognomy of the character, and an interesting scene at the conclusion of the Pardoner’s Tale to inculcate his views of the church to his audience. The way that Chaucer used these literary devices to subtly make his views known to an audience while hooking them with entertainment, shows that Chaucer was truly a literary genius.
The first of these devices, his straightforwardness and matter-of-factness regarding the Pardoner’s hypocrisy, is used first to appall his readers, and then to cause them to take a second look at the church in their own society. Chaucer knew that most of his audience lacked the ability to fully understand his views, but he hoped that by using this device he could plant seeds of reason in them that would lead to reform of corruption he saw among church officials like the pardoners.
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