Explanations Of The Pardoner’s Tale By Geoffrey Chaucer

          Allas! To dere boghte she beautee!

Wherfore I seye al-day, as men may see,

That yiftes of fortune or of nature

Ben cause of deeth to many a creature.

Of bothe yiftes that I speke of now

Men han ful ofte more harm than prow.

Exp. After listening to the trazic tale of the Physician in which Virginia is killed by her father so that her honour could be saved, the Host generalises about the gifts of fortune and Nature. The beauty of Virginia aroused lustful passions in the heart of a magistrate and the magistrate contrived to take her away from her father to make her the victim of his lust. The father of the maid killed her to save her from shame and ignominy. After listening to this sad tale the Host concludes that the gifts of fortune (like wealth and power) -and the gifts of Nature (like beauty and virtues) prove more harmful than beneficial.

Critical Comments: The Host speaks sadly that the maid had to pay a very heavy price for possessing beauty. He concludes that the gifts of Fortune like power and pelf and the gifts of Nature like beauty and virtue have caused the death of many persons. Both these gifts have proved to be more harmful than beneficial. He universalises the fact and says that men can see this for themselves as such things happen almost everyday. The lines are dramatic and the conclusion cannot be attributed to the views of Chaucer.

          And, sires, also it heeleth jalousie;

For though a man be falle in jalous rage,

Lat maken with this water his potage,

And nevere shal he moore his wyf mystriste,

Though he the soothe of hir defaute wiste,

Al had she taken preestes two or thre.

Exp. Chaucer in The Pardoner’s Tale has described the miraculous effect of the relics. Here he describes the effect of the shoulder-bone which cures the husbands of jealousy for their deceitful wives. Here the Pardoner is describing the effect of the shoulder bone of a sheep belonging to a holy Jew. A man may suffer and rage with jealousy for his unfaithful wife. But if he eats his broth prepared with the water in which this bone has been dipped, he will be cured of the jealousy. He will not suspect his wife of her immorality even though he knows the truth (soothe) that his wife has two or three priests as lovers with whom she has slept.

Critical Comments: Chaucer here flings his irony at the corrupt Pardoners, unfaithful wives and the credulous simpletons of his day. Like a comedian, he digs in at them and ridicules them. The themes give an idea of the age which was rampant with corruption, credulity and superstitions.

Chaucer is first to describe the miraculous power of the relics and has taught the succeeding writers like Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy to do so. Thus Shakespeare describes love-in-idleness which causes miraculous effect. Describes its effect to Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the following manner;

And maidens call it love-in-idleness.


The juice of It on sleeping eyelids laid

Will make or man or woman madly dote

Upon the next live creature that it sees.

In Jude the Obscure Hardy describes the miraculous effect of love-philtre and other relics. Dr. Velbert sells a pot of coloured lard to an old woman, which can be obtained from a particular animal gazing on Mount Sinai. He sells to Arabella love- philtre which is a distillation of the juices of doves’ hearts. If one contrives the desired man to take about ten drops of it in his drink. He will fall in love with the contriver.

         I preche of no thyng but for coveityse.

Therfore my theme is yet, and evere was,

‘Radix malorum est Cupiditas.’

 Thus kan I preche agayn that  same vice

 Which that I use, and that is avarice.

Exp. In these lines from Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale the Pardoner reveals his unscrupulous greed. Even though he preaches against the vice of avarice, he himself practises it most of all.

The Pardoner preaches against nothing so much as against covetousness. His main theme of preaching is, as it ever was the love of money is the root of all evil. He preaches against the same vice of greed which he himself practises most in his personal life. And that is the vice of avarice, i.e., covetousness. So long as people will remain covetous they would not be inclined to part with their money. That is the main motive of the Pardoner-to preach against covetousness so that people may offer him more money. The irony lies in the fact that the Pardoner practices the same vice against which he practices, and that he preaches against it not that persons should be uplifted spiritually but that he should get more and more money.

         They daunce and pleyen at dees, bothe day and nyght,

         And eten also and drynken over hir myght,

         Thurgh which they doon the devel sacrifise

         Withinne that develes temple in cursed wise,

         By superfluytee abhomynable.

Exp. In these lines from Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale the Pardoner describes the follies and corruption of the Three Rioters who used to live in Flanders. The Pardoner digs at their wanton excesses of drinking and gluttony.

These three revellers used to dance on the tunes of musical instruments, and played at dice day in and day out. They were gluten and used to eat excessively and drank wine beyond their capacity. They ate more than they could digest and drank wine more than they could hold in their stomach. They used to visit the taverns and brothels which were to them the Devil’s temples. Within these Devil’s temples they used to make sacrifices or offerings to the Devils by indulging in debauchery in the accursed manner. By committing detestable excesses in drinking. overeating and indulging in sex they used to please the Devil. Thus their indulgences may be described as offerings to please the Devil.

Critical Comments: Chaucer flings here his pungent irony at the Pardoner. The irony lies in the fact that the Pardoner condemns drinking, overeating and sex-indulging as detestable vices while he himself is dead drunk. overfed, and seeks jolly wenches in the towns he visits.

         Herodes, whoso wel the stories soghte,

Whan he of wyn was repleet at his feeste,

Right at his owene table he yaf his heeste

To sleen the Baptist John, ful giltelees.

Exp. Chaucer denounces gluttony, especially drunking of wine. He has illustrated from the Bible how Lot. when he was dead drunk. immorally and unnaturally slept with his daughters and did not know then what he was doing. But gluttony’ incites not only sensuality but also brutality. Here he illustrates from Herod how brutality can be committed under the intoxication of wine. The Pardoner describes, the story of Herod who made every effort to learn  stories which were current regarding the birth of Christ. When Herod was dead drunk  at his table, in the feast. he gave the orders for the execution of the innocent, guiltless John the Baptist. It was the excessive drinking that led him to give such an unjust  order for slaying the innocent person.

Critical Comments: The Pardoner illustrates from the holy Bible to put weight to his sermon and to convince the religious, credulous persons of the gravity of his preaching against wine. The irony lies in the fact that the Pardoner, who digs at drinking, is himself dead drunk at the time of preaching. The Pardoner is exploiting the Bible for his own purpose, to illustrate the viciousness and dangers of drinking wine. As a matter of fact there is no mention in the Bible that Herod was a drunkard and he ordered execution of John the Baptist. He did it, the Bible says, to please his step daughter.

         Allas, a foul thyng is it, by my feith,

         To seye this word, and fouler is the dede

         Whan man so drynketh of the white and rede

         That of his throte he maketh his pryvee

         Thurgh thilke cursed superfluitee.

Exp. In these lines from The Pardoner’s Tale Chaucer denounces gluttony  which includes drinking as a foul and filthy thing. Here the Pardoner waxes eloquent on the vice of gluttony. He swears by his faith that gluttony is a foul thing. Even to pronounce the word “gluttony’ is stinking. And certainly the deed of gluttony is still fowler when a person drinks the white and red wine in such a (so) that his throat becomes a passage, an outlet (pryvee) for dirty things, when he vomits the cursed superfluous matter which he can neither digest nor hold in his stomach.

Critical Comments: The rhetorical speech is impressive and convincing. The Pardoner is expert in holding the audience spellbound by his rhetorical speech. This he attempts to persuade his audience to part with their money, and offer it to him. The lines are also ironical. Chaucer seems to be chuckling and laughing in his sleeves while indirectly digging in at the Pardoner. The Pardoner swears by his faith that gluttony is a foul thing. We can ask the Pardoner how much faith he he has to support his faith. Here- in lies the ironical implication.

          But herkneth, lordynges, a word, I yow preye;

          That aile the sovereyn acters, dar I seye,

Of victories in the Olde Testament,

Thurgh verray God, that is ominipotent,

Were do on in abstinence and in preyere;

Looketh the Bible, and there ye may it leere.

Exp. In these lines from The Pardoner’s Tale Chaucer denounces drinking and illustrates from the Bible how the supreme acts of triumph can be achieved through piety and abstinence, and misdeeds of cruelty and sensuality can be committed through drunkenness. Here it is the Pardoner who addresses the pilgrims and tells them how he teaches his congregation.

The Pardoner requests the fellow pilgrims to listen to him. He tells them confidently (dar I seye) that most of the triumphs mentioned in the Old Testament were achieved (were doon) through abstinence (keeping away from drunkenness and sensuality) and piety, though by the will of the Omnipotent God. He tells the pilgrims that if they want to learn more about these things they can consult the Bible.

        “Go bet,” quod he, “and axe readily

What cors is this that passeth heer forby,

And looke that thou reporte his name weel”

Exp. In these lines from The Pardoners Tale, Chaucer gives us an old world atmosphere of the fourteenth century. England. The Pardoner, the character in The Canterbury Tales is narrating the tale. The three rioters had been drinking wine long before any bell had rung for prayer. Suddenly they heard the ringing of the bell.

As soon as they heard the ringing of the bell one of the rioters called out the serving boy at the tavern to go and find out whose corpse was being carried out through the street past the tavern nearby. He also asked. the servant to find out the name of the dead man correctly (weel).

Critical Comments: (1) The custom of ringing a bell before a corpse, that was being carried out to the graveyard, was peculiarly English. It had come into vogue during the plague. The purpose of ringing the bell was (a) to warn the people to move out of the way in order to avoid the infection of the plague; (b) to clear the way to the corpse: (c) to invite people to say a. prayer for the departed soul; and (d) to remind people that all the glories of the world lead but to the grave. The ringing of the bell seems to be remanding us: “Never get to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee”.

(2) The namelessness of the revellers contrasts with their interest in the dead man’s name. But they do not hear it. They hear only the name of Death itself which has taken the dead man.

(3) There is a sense of mystery created by these lines in requesting the servant to find out the name of the dead person. The servant’s reply that he knows the dead person to have been the companion of the three rioters is equally mysterious.

(4) The ringing of the bell creates an old world atmosphere. The ringing of the bell before a corpse was a medieval custom in England.

(5) We have here a glimpse of the narrative art of the Pardoner. He arrests our attention with his description which is captivating and thrilling.

          Herkneth, felawes, we thre been al ones:

 Lat ech of us holde tip his hand til oother,

And ech of us bicomen otheres brother,

 And we wol sleen this false tray tour Deeth-

He shal be slayn, he that so manye sleeth,

By Goddess dignitee, er it be nyght!

Exp. In these lines from The Pardoner’s Tale, Chaucer describes the arrogance of the drunken persons who swear and boast that they will kill Death. Here the Pardoner is narrating the tale about the Three Rioters who swear false brotherhood and resolve with hollow boast that they will wander in search of Death to slay him. One of the rioters, on hearing the tavern servant and the master of the tavern that Death has slain their friend, gets infuriated and addresses his other drunkard- fellows in the proudest possible manner. He asks his friends to pay attention to what he says (Herkneth). He says that all the three friends pledge unity (been al ones). He asks them to raise their hands together to signify that they have pledged oneness. He emphasises the fact that each of them is sworn brother. And by thus, swearing and pledging friendship. brotherhood and common purpose they will advance to slay the false. traitor. Death. He swears by the honour of God (Goddess dignities that they will succeed in killing their terrible enemy before the nightfall.

Critical Comments: (1) The pledging of the sworn friendship and brotherhood is ironic, rather dramatically ironic. We know what lies in store for these friends who are pledging brotherhood. We know that the two of them will, instead of slaying Death, slay their youngest swum brother. And the youngest brother will poison his elder two sworn brothers. The irony lies in the fact that while they boast of searching Death, it is Death itself who is waiting for them. Moreover, to search Death and resolve to slay Death is the most ironical thing on earth because the very opposite is the universal truth.

(2) The Rioters expose their arrogance by forming a trinity to slay Death. We feel amused at their hollow boastfulness: for all their arrogance and hollow boast they merely beat the air and like the dust. Their activities are merely a parody of spiritual salvation. Their deadly sins drive them madly towards their grave.

(3) Chaucer (in the tale the Pardoner) shows great skill in narrating the tale. He arouses curiosity and suspense of the readers and holds their attention.

         Now, sires,” quod he, “if that ye be so leef

To fynde Deeth, turne up this croked wey;

 For in that grove I lafte hym, by my fey.

Under a tree, and there he wole abyde:

Noght for youre boost he wole him notkyng hyde,

Se ye that ook? Right there ye shal hym fynde

God save you that boghte agayn mankynde,

And yow amende!” Thus seyde this olde man.

Exp. In these lines from The Pardoner’s Tale, Chaucer describes the arrogance and rudeness of the revellers. Here in the tale it is the Pardoner who narrates the tale and the Old Man reveals to the three revellers the whereabouts of Death.

The Old Man tells the three revellers that if they are very keen and eager to find out Death, they should turn up the zig zag path. He says that he left him (Death) in that grove under a tree, and there he (Death) would stay. He will not hide himself for all the frightening boast of them. He points out towards an oak tree and says that he will find him there. He blesses them and expresses his wish that Christ, who redeemed mankind, may protect and reform them.

         The pothecarie answerde, “And thou shalt have

A thyng that, also God my soule save,

In al this world ther is no creature

That ete or dronke hath of this confiture

Nought but the montance of a corn of whete,

That he ne shal his lif anon forlete;

Exp. In these lines from The Pardoner’s Tale Chaucer describes the villainous reveller who does not hesitate to kill his companions with poison. Here the tale is narrated by the Pardoner who, himself avaricious, condemns the avarice of the revellers. Here he describes the youngest reveller who plans to kill his companions by mixing poison into the wine.”

When the youngest reveller asked the chemist to give him poison, the chemist replied that he will give him the deadliest possible poison. He prays to God to save his soul because he is selling the worst kind of poison. He is selling such an effective and violent poison that whoever cats even a little quantity of it will soon lose his life.

Critical Comments: (1) These lines remind us of the apothecary who sells poison to Romeo in Romeo and Juliet.

(2) Chaucer flings his sharp irony at the youngest reveller who buys poison for his sworn brothers and at the apothecary who takes the name of God (God my: soul Save) while selling poison.

         O Cursed synne of all cursednesse!

O tray tours omycide, Owlkkednesse!

Ogletonye, luxurie and hasardrye!

Thou blasphemour of Crist with vileynye.

And Other grete, of usage and of pride!

Allas, mankynde, how may it bitide

That to thy Creatour which that the wroghte,

And with his precious herte-blood thee boghte

Thou art so fals and so unkynde, allas?

Exp. In these lines from The Pardoner’s Tale Chaucer resumes the sermon Interlude and denounces the sins which he had done earlier. Here in the tale it is the Pardoner who condemns the deadly sins.

Now the tale has been concluded. The villainous revellers have murdered each other, having been overpowered by covetousness. The Pardoner seems to have been overwhelmed by the corruption of mankind, and exclaims his sudden emotions. First of all he condemns the sin of murder. the cursed sin of all cursedness, and then the sim of gluttony, luxury, gambling, blasphemy against Christ and the like sins which are committed because of insolence and the force of habit. He expresses his grief at the feeling that man has utterly fallen down, that he is ungrateful to God who has created him; and to Christ who redeemed him by sacrificing his life.

Critical Comments: (1) The Pardoner exclaims his denunciations against the deadly sins in a rhetorical. pulpit style in order to impress the congregation (here the Canterbury pilgrims) so that they may shake off their avarice. come forward and offer money to him.

(2) The murder of the youngest rioter (rive him thurgh the sides tweye), tearing his body as Christ’s body was torn on the cross. is a parody of Christ’s sacrifice. The whole tale. in which the rioters seek Death to kill it. is the parody of Christ’s effort to kill death on spiritual level. A. C. Spearing observes in this respect: “In the Tale blasphemy appears elsewhere than in the quest to kill Death. The death of Death in the sacred sense is brought about by the sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross.”

(3) The exclamatory denunciation of the deadly sins is the ironic framework of which the Pardoner is a part. The Pardoner condemns those sins which he himself commits, at least some of them like gluttony, avarice and blasphemy.

          But, by the croys which that Seint Eleyne fond,

I wolde I hadde thy coillons in myn hand

 In slide of relikes or of seintuarie.

Lat kulte him of! I wol thee helpe hem carie;

They shul be shryned in an hogges toord!

Exp. In these lines from The Pardoner’s Tale Chaucer describes the anger of the Host. After the Pardoner has narrated his tale he emphasises to the fellow pilgrims his own importance because he can absolve them of their sins in case they die in accident and their souls depart from their bodies. Then he persuades the pilgrims to open their purses to touch his relics and buy his pardons. He addresses the Host as one who is most enveloped in sin and asks him to come forward to kiss the relics. This infuriates the Host and he expresses his anger.

The Host reacts in a bitter, strong language. He swears by the Cross (which Saint Helena) discovered as one on which (Christ had been crucified) that he would rather hold the Pardoner’s testicles in his hand than touch the relics. He suggests that the Pardoner’s testicles should be cut off and enshrined in the pig’s dung. He also offers to carry the testicles of the Pardoner to enshrine them in the pigs excrement.

Critical Comments: The Host himself did not know that he was capable of expressing such strong feelings of anger in the most obscene language. The joke of the pardoner backfires.



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