The Unpardoned Pardoner

AP Englit .2

Canterbury Essay

The Canterbury Tales is a collection of eloquently written tales of satire, portrayed through the use of irony and malicious word choice. Chaucer’s most outstanding examples are found within the Pardoner’s tale, an ironic narrative told by a crooked pardoner. Three aspects of a satire are visible within this story: juxtaposition, inflation, and parody.

Chaucer begins the tale of the Pardoner by quoting the Holy Bible, “The love of money is the root of all evil: I Timothy 6:10” (Chaucer 339). Naturally, a pardoner should be well acquainted with the Bible, as he should use it as a general guide to living life. In the case of this particular Pardoner, however, the inclusion of the Bible sets the stage for juxtaposition satire. Before beginning his narration, the pardoner states in the prologue “…I can preach against the same vice which I practice, and that is avarice.” (Chaucer 343). By adding an element of comparison, Chaucer shows the unquestionable Bible seems to hold more leverage than the hypocritical pardoner.

Inflation of sin in the story of the Pardoner gives the illusion of a religious authority addressing an audience during mass. The Pardoner preaches “Gambling is the very mother of lies, and of deceit, and of cursed perjuries, and of blasphemy of Christ, of manslaughter, and also of property and time” (Chaucer 351). Manslaughter or blasphemy of Christ has little to do with wasteful spending, but the Pardoner has inflated the idea of sin within this story.

Light ribaldry of the church was actually used as a tool to release his opinions on the current practices of the church at that time. Chaucer uses both the Pardoner and the Bible as instruments of ridicule throughout the tale. The Pardoner speaks against blasphemy, but tries to sell the pilgrims outrageous relics, stating “I have a shoulderbone, set in metal, from a holy Jew’s sheep.” (Chaucer 341). The Pardoner’s relics are symbolic of indulgences sold during Chaucer’s time by the church as payments for various sins. Ridicule coats Chaucer’s language and word choice in a struggle for the conscious reader to realize the impact of these particular words. For example, the Pardoner describes drunkenness as “abominable overindulgence; their oaths were so great and so damnable that it was grisly to hear them swear” (Chaucer 345). ‘Abominable’ is usually a word associated with a towering monster, and in the second half of his sentence, Chaucer uses ‘grisly’ to describe their responses, implying a bestial undertone.

Parody of the church is conveyed throughout the story through Chaucer’s unique use of irony and word choice. The introduction to The Canterbury Tales describes the Pardoner’s tale as “a swift and deadly exemplum, an illustrative story embedded in a sermon on avarice by this disgustingly avaricious professional preacher;” (Chaucer xvi). Chaucer takes the vivid irony of the pardoner’s situation and portrays it in a humorous light. Chaucer’s use of satirical devices both disguised and illuminated his disapproval of the church practice, and allowed him to be the first man ever to be buried in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. New York: Bantam Books, 1964.