THE PARDONER’S TALE
This story concerns three young men who spend much of their time in revelry.
The tale is set in Flanders, and the Pardoner during the telling of the
tale, tends to drift from the plot and sermonize to the Pilgrims.
On this particular day as the three men indulge in gambling and drunkenness,
they hear a funeral passing outside the Inn.
They ask a servant who has died. He responds by saying that it is a friend of the three men who was stabbed in the back by a thief called Death. He has killed many in the neighborhood recently. The three drunken men decide to seek this thief out, and they travel to the next town in pursuit.
On the way they meet an extremely old man dressed in rags.
He explains that he has been cursed to wander the earth until he can find a youth who will change places with him. He goes on to say that not even Death will take his life. The three men ask the old man if he has seen Death, and he responds that he was last seen under the tree at the end of the lane.
The three men go and find bags of gold beneath the tree and they decide to
keep this for themselves. It would be too dangerous to move the gold in daytime so they will wait for nightfall.
They draw straws to see who will go into town to obtain food, and the youngest is given this task. When he has gone, the two that are left decide that they will murder him when he returns and keep the gold for themselves.
The youngest of the three decides to poison the food he brings to the other
two and keep the gold for himself.
The youngest is stabbed, and the other two are poisoned.
Along with the Wife of Bath, the Pardoner is the other interesting Pilgrim
in the company.
He is clearly a complex man as revealed in the prologue to his tale.
He finds it easy to sermonize to the other Pilgrims emphasizing his text that the love of money is the root of all evil, and gives advice as to how people should live their lives in order to avoid sin. At the same time he confesses that he readily succumbs to temptation and likes to indulge himself with rich food and fine living. The money he obtains to support his lifestyle comes from the sale of relics which are mainly purchased by bad sinners.
At the end of his tale he again takes the opportunity to make some money
indicating that the Host is perhaps the most sinful of those present, but the Host responds that the Pardoner is not a complete man.
It was only the intervention of the Knight that restored peace between the Host and the Pardoner.
Again Chaucer takes the opportunity to highlight the hypocrisy of the
Medieval Church in his portrayal of the Pardoner.
It is the old story of the Pardoner not practicing what he preaches. You will recall that the Pardoner sells Pardons and Indulgences to sinners by the authority of the Pope, and it is no coincidence that Chaucer depicts him as probably the most evil of the Pilgrims. This is perhaps what makes this character so intriguing and this is shared by the tale that he tells.
There has been some ambiguity about this story, but I am convinced that the
old man is in fact Death or the Devil, and he is very familiar with the frailties of man and what these three will do when they find the gold that he has left under the tree. He has another three souls to add
to his kingdom!
The old man mirrors the hypocrisy of the Narrator himself in the way he
deceives the three men.
The Pardoner’s work is also based on deceit, selling relics to the unwary.
The message is, therefore, that you cannot covet money without coveting