Explain the self exposure of the pardoner’s tale

It is surprising that the callous, cunning and malicious Pardoner reveals his vices and his fraudulent methods before the fellow-pilgrims. He tells that his aim of life is to extort money by hook or by crook. He says without any feeling of shame.

Thus Kan I precke agayn that same vices,

Which that I use, and that is avarice.

He says that he is a parasite and regards it beyond his dignity to stoop down to such manual labour as making baskets. He is so greedy and vicious that he does not hesitate to extort money even from a poor widow whose children are starving. He drinks wine and visits brothels to satisfy his sexual hunger, even though he is a eunuch.

Nay, I wol drynke licour of the vyne; 

And have a Joly wenche in every toun.

He is malicious and vindictive and, like a snake spits out venom at those persons who have displeased or offended him. He befools the simple, credulous persons by fraud. And if he fails thus in his purpose he blackmails them. He tells that if there is any person in the congregation who has committed such a horrible sin that he or she cannot confess for shame he or she is not allowed to make offering. Thus every person, fearing that he or she should be regarded such a horrible sinner, comes forward to offer money. Thus the Pardoner fleeces every member of the congregation. He reveals himself to be the crafty scoundrel and an outright vicious person in the guise of a holy dignitary. This is really the damning piece of self-exposure.

Shocking and Unbelievable: This sort of revelation on the part of the Pardoner is not only surprising or shocking, it strains our sense of credulity. It is perplexing that a crooked and cunning person reveals without reservation that he is avaricious. Vicious and unscrupulous in his methods of making money, and that his relics are fake and his pardons fraudulent. We cannot understand why by exposing himself the cunning Pardoner lessens his chances of befooling others. It is all the more improbable that he persuades the same pilgrims to offer him money before whom he has exposed himself. And the more surprising thing is that he does all this shamelessly, blatantly confessing that he can peddle fake pardons and fraudulent relics by diabolical tricks, that he can loosen the purse strings of the simple folk by loosening their heart strings. We fail to understand why the Cunning Pardoner does so. Risking his chances of extorting money. This is jigsaw puzzle and teases us out of thought. Let us however try to discover reasons why he does so, what is the aim of Chaucer in making his Pardoner revealing himself so aggressively.

Drunkenness: It has been observed by the critics that the wine has loosened the tongue of the Pardoner. D.S. Brewer observes: “Perhaps the draught of moist and corny ale goes to his head, for with a leer he reveals all the cunning tricks by which he cheats simple folk of their money. Preaching against avarice in order to feed his own.” But this view cannot be accepted. A drunk person cannot be expected to deliver an excellent sermon with rhetorical flourishes and learned phraseology or tell an artistic tale with consistency and coherence. Even Brewer concedes that there is no evidence of the Pardoner being drunk and tipsy. Drink has surely not befuddled him. Kittredge says: “One draught of ale, however, ‘moistened corny’ would never fuddle so seasoned a drinker. Besides he manifests none of the signs of intoxication.” We cannot deny that the Pardoner is not drunk. In the very beginning he tells that he cannot tell his tale without taking a draught or two from the nearby tavern. But he is not so heavily drunk that he may have lost his senses.

Convention: Critics have aid that the self-exposure of the Pardoner as a matter of convention. Though Chaucer is the first realist in English literature he has observed conventions. That all the twenty-nine pilgrims are perfect story tellers and all of them tell stories in verse is a convention. It is also a convention that in spite of all the noise created by gossiping and trotting all the twenty-nine pilgrims, as they gallop along, can listen to the tale told by one pilgrim. Likewise, self-revelation has also been a convention in literature. Characters have revealed themselves in soliloquies. Asides and dramatic monologues. John Speirs and S.D. Brewer think that self-exposure was a familiar convention among the medieval satirists and Chaucer might have taken this convention from them. Edmund in King Lear and lag in Othello have also unmarked their villainy before the audience.

Vanity and Pride: There are even cunning persons who display their art to others because they feel a sort of pride in doing so, and thus satisfy their vanity. They are led away by their boasting. They seem to be impressing their friends and colleagues with their art of befooling the simple ignorant persons. They seem to be saying what Puck said “Lord’ what fools these mortals be !” The Pardoner is so confident about his invincibility of his roguery that he boasts of his diabolical practices and fraudulent tricks. And he possesses the effrontery to ask the pilgrims, before whom he has laid bare his bosom, to kiss his fake relics and offer his money.

Creative Art: The Pardoner is a creative artist. He describes all his viciousness and his cunning ways with the zeal and enthusiasm of an inspired artist. He forgets that he is exposing himself. Such is the pleasure he enjoys in revealing himself. He has made an art of self-revelation. He makes his self-revelation objective and impersonal. He does it as the modern essayists do. He reveals himself but makes revelation a work of art. Something inspired and creative.

The Temporary Audience: But the greatest and the most plausible reason why he exposes himself is that he knows he is speaking to a temporary audience He knows fun well that he is speaking not to his regular congregation, that he is speaking only before the temporary audience. He knows that even if they do not offer him money. His profession will not be affected. Therefore he can afford to take the risk of displaying his art of roguery, can indulge in exhibitionism. It is as if you are travelling in a train and befriend a few persons. There lies in your subconscious mind that these persons are your fellow-travellers only for a short time. Therefore there is no risk of revealing your weaknesses before them if by doing so. Your ego and pride are satisfied. You can safely take them into confidence and lay bare your bosom before them in the matters of love, professional art and the tricks of your trade. Such is exactly what the Pardoner has done. But he over-reaches himself when he practices his revealed art on the fellow pilgrims. Especially the Host. He forgets for a moment that the fellow pilgrims know all his fraudulence and viciousness, and that they are not so simple and ignorant as the members of his congregation are. Therefore when he charges the Host as most enveloped in sin and asks him to kiss his fake relics and offer him money, the Host thrashes him so rudely aged obscenely that he who earns by speaking, is rendered speechless.



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