Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Pardoner's Tale," a relatively straightforward satirical and anti-capitalist view of the church, contrasts motifs of sin with the salvational properties of religion to draw out the complex self-loathing of the emasculated Pardoner. In particular, Chaucer concentrates on the Pardoner's references to the evils of alcohol, gambling, blasphemy, and money, which aim not only to condemn his listeners and unbuckle their purses, but to elicit their wrath and expose his eunuchism.
Chaucer's depiction of the Pardoner in "The General Prologue" is unsparing in its effeteness; he has "heer as yelow as wax/ But smoothe it heeng as dooth a strike of flex/ By ounces heenge his lokkes that he hadde...But thinne it lay, by colpons, oon by oon" (677-681). The pale, lanky qualities of his hair relate to his androgynous makeup, and the repetition of "heeng" ironically foreshadows his castration. Further hints of the Pardoner's being a eunuch, such as "A vois he hadde as smal as hath a goot/ No beerd hadde he, ne never shold have," are interspersed between description of his "feined flaterye and japes" that accompany his selling of false relics (707). The assumption can be drawn that the Pardoner's status as a man is also one of "feined flaterye and japes," that he relies on words to compensate for what he considers a body as fraudulent as his relics. In this sense, the relics become a substitute for the Pardoner's loss of masculinity, yet also a symbol of his incompleteness. The Pardoner's need to flaunt them corresponds with his desire to boast of his hypocrisy, a preemptive, self-deprecating strike that ensures future resentment from his audience: "Thus can I preche again that same vice/ Which th...
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... I wol thee helpe hem carye./ They shal be shrined in an hogges tord" (664-7). The Pardoner is speechless, and his repressed motive to expose the direct connection between his relics and his testicles is finally made by someone else. After the knight restores tranquillity, it leads one to wonder whether the Pardoner's underlying intent may have been to expiate his guilt and face his shame.
Works Cited and Consulted
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales in The Riverside Chaucer. General Ed. Benson, Larry D. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.
Pichaske, David R. "Pardoner's Tale." The Movement of the Canterbury Tales: Chaucer's Literary Pilgrimage. New York: Norwood Editions, 1977
Rossignol, Rosalyn. "The Pardoner's Tale." Chaucer A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Works. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 1999
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