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The Pardoner and His Tale
The Pardoner is a renaissance figure that wanders the lands in hopes of bringing forgiveness to those in need. This Pardoner is a bad pardoner among the other pardoners. The tale that he tells is a moral one that is suppose to bring about the desire from people to ask for forgiveness. Instead the Pardoner uses this tale as a way of contracting money from his fellow pilgrims. The Pardoner is a person that is suppose to practice what he preaches. What that person does affects those that look up to that person. The Pardoner must be able to tell of tales that bring about hope. The way in which that might happen is through example. If the pardoner is unable to produce a tale that convinces the audience of his deeds then he is unsuccessful. Such an act will result in the failure of his job. The Pardoner here takes advantage of the innocence of the people that he preaches to. Such an action is not the action that a pardoner is supposed to be doing. Instead there are certain actions and purposes that the pardoner is preaching. Defying such principals destroys the office of the pardoner.
The Pardoner is a common renaissance figure that wandered the lands with attempts to collect money for church projects and absolve people of their sins.
Churchmen whose job it was to wander from place to place-soliciting contributions abounded in the Middle Ages. At their best, such medieval churchmen collected
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money for worthwhile projects such as the support of religious orders or the building of great cathedrals like the one at Canterbury to which the pilgrims journey (see photo 1). As identification, solicitors for funds would carry, as the Pardoner does, “bulls” and “patents” (VI, C, 336-337). Then they would preach, exhorting believers to generosity in support of the organization-in the Pardoner’s case, a hospital, St. Mary’s of Roncevalles. An honest pardoner would be much like a fund-raiser for any religious or charitable organization today. But a dishonest pardoner like this one had many opportunities to profit at the expense of the naive. Once he was able to “stir them to devotion” (VI,C,346), he could pull out his “relics,” odds and ends, bits of stones and bones and cloth, and offer them for sale(Hallissy 214).
A Pardoner is not necessarily a bad person. That is true because not all people
are bad, just that there are always “some rotten apples in every good batch.” This is true
about this such pardoner.
By trade the Pardoner is a preacher. His task is to use his rhetorical gifts to persuade his hearers to repent and be saved. The sermon, then and now, is a major part of the Christian liturgy. The homilist selects a scriptural passage on which to expound, typically one selected from the day’s liturgy. Since the Pardoner is an
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itinerant preacher and not a parish clerk, his audience changes. So he uses not only the same text but also the same sermon over and over. His scriptural passage is
always the same: “Radix malorum est Cupidatas” (VI, C, 334); cupidity, the inordinate desire for or excessive love of money, is the root of all evil. Nothing is wrong with this text, or even the Pardoner’s sermon on it. Something is very wrong when the Pardoner’s intention, however. He deliberately uses his considerable homiletic skills to persuade his audience to demonstrate their ability to overcome cupiditas by generously giving their money away – to him (Hallissy, 213-214).
The Pardoner preaches against the very vice that he practices. The pardoner is evil as
his own rhetoric identifies him to be.
The Pardoner described his own words as poisonous. As a churchman, he should employ his considerable speech skills in the service of God. Instead he sees himself as Satan’s agent, a serpent “stinging” his audience with his “sharp tongue/In preaching” (VI, C, 413-414). He misuses his God-given talent to nurture the very Cupiditas against which he preaches(Hallissy, 216):
The tale that the pardoner tells is morally abhorrent, but this could be an attempt of a
cynical exploitation of religion for his own financial advantage. The tale can be viewed as
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an image of how one should not live, and how the pardoner does live (Cooper, 263).
“The Pardoner’s Tale” doesn’t match the person who tells the tale. “Spoken by the
Pardoner, it becomes deeply immoral – not only as a revelation of his own vice, but as a
means to advance his own love of money; and moreover he chooses this tale while
drinking in the tavern setting he so fiercely condemns.” The way in which to see how the
“Pardoner’s Tale” is not coincidental to the character identification is through this
contraction of two stories in Fragment VI.
The contrasts between the two stories of Fragment VI have been discussed in connection with the Physician’s Tale. The tellers as well as the tales are implicitly compared by the juxtaposition. The Physician should be a healer of bodies, but he tells a tale in which death is inflicted by a father on the young and health. Pardons should be a way to spiritual health, but the Pardoner’s Tale tells of death cutting off sinners in their pride of life (Cooper, 272).
The tale that the Pardoner tells is a very moral tale. The tale is of men who find death in
the example of money. It all begins with the rioters seeking death. An old man who has already found the treasure directs the three men to the treasure. At the finding of the treasure two of the three men make themselves brothers as the other one heads to town for food. The two-brothers plan to kill the one who went to town, while at the same time
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the one that headed to town orders poison to kill the other two that remain watching the treasure. The end result is that all three of them die. The two brothers kill the one that
came from town. In celebration they drink that food that the one from town has prepared for them laced with poison. This therefor brings about the concept that the Pardoner constantly brings about on his sermon. That is Radix malorum est Cupiditas. This means that all evil is from the desire of money. The evil here is the ultimate evil, money, and that leads to death (Cooper, 264).
“The Pardoner’s Tale” is a contradiction. “His tale is intimately and permanently bound to him in contradiction. No other tale is so isolated and surrounded by the “game.” Certainly no other tale so articulate the hidden principle in its teller’s nature (Bloom, 25).” The tale that the pardoner tells is not identical to who he is. “The Tale also defeats his attempt, of course: simply by detaching itself and all its meanings from the influence of his personality (Bloom, 25).”
The Pardoner has a God-given gift, the ability to talk beautifully. The Pardoner is a very articulate person.
The more he talks, the more he mocks speech as a power for truth or falsehood. The deeper he leads us into his contradictory motivation (its animus is directed inwards and outwards at once) the more it baffles us, and tricks us out of the very
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judgment with which his flatteries credit us. We are left with an exercise of power for unquestionable motives (Bloom, 31).
Any man who does not use the God-given gifts as God had intended is a agent of the devil. As so the Pardoner believes that he is.
The Pardoner described his own words as poisonous. As a churchman, he should employ his considerable speech skills in the service of God. Instead he sees himself as Satan’s agent, a serpent “stinging” his audience with his “sharp tongue/ In preaching” (VI, C, 413-414). He misuses his God-given talent to nurture the Cupiditas against which he preaches (Hallissy, 216):
The probable reason that the Pardoner is not identical with his tale is that the pardoner does not believe what he preaches.
This, according to the Pardoner, is how he preaches. He appears to be ready to end his sermon to the Canterbury pilgrims when he assures them that he knows that Jesus Christ is the “soul’s leech” (VI, C, 916), the only true Physician of the spirit, the only real Pardoner. This Pardoner is a sinner but he is not a unbeliever:
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he believes in the power of Christ to do in fact what he himself only pretends to do (Hallissy, 221).
How can individuals be a contradiction of themselves? The Pardoner is such a person. The pardoner is a contradiction of himself, and a manipulator. How can such a person be connected to a tale that he tells that is composed of morals, a quality that the pardoner does not carry.
The tale is not related to the character that tells the tale. There is one quote that can best sum up the Pardoner. “The Pardoner’s hypocritical behavior is comparable to that of a corrupt evangelist today who, not even believing what he preaches, takes money from the poor to live in wealth (Hallissy, 216).” The Pardoner is a man out only for himself. Preaching a vice that he himself practices does not show example to others. The Pardoner is in a sense one of those bad apples in a bunch. A tale of morals by a man of unknown morals.