The tale is one of those told to the pilgrims, whilst they are on their journey to Canterbury – this is something we might forget because the pardoner recreates the sermon which he delivers in towns and villages. It seems that even he, himself, may be confused about who he is addressing in lines 576-587, when he delivers his peroration (which is, in this case, an upbeat conclusion to drum up funds). The pardoner’s sermon has form, structure and language features of rhetorical discourse; put simply, rhetoric is the art of changing people’s minds. The poetry itself is, predominately, in iambic pentameter with rhyming couplets.
The Pardoners Tale
In Flaundres whylom was a companye
Chaucer is humorously tapping into the common view that Flanders was associated with heavy drinking; we are immediately on the alert for a tale of carousing.
Of yonge folk, that haunteden folye,
‘haunteden folye’ = That practise folly.
The rhetorical device of amplificatio (i.e. an exaggerated development – literally ‘I amplify’) begins on the next line (137) and finishes on line 154
As ryot, hasard, stewes, and tavernes,
Here, the pardoner begins his list of the different types of ‘folye’: riotous behaviour and gambling. In brothels and drinking in taverns, young people….
Wher-as, with harpes, lutes, and giternes,
They daunce and pleye at dees bothe day and night,
….dance and play dice.
And ete also and drinken over hir might,
Thurgh which they doon the devel sacrifyse
Note the alliterative power of this clause. The pardoner declares that they sacrifice/offer their souls to the devil…
With-in that develes temple, in cursed wyse,
…in the devil’s temple, a metaphorical flourish of great skill, which is reinforced by the devel/develes repetition. (Incidentally, develes is the inflected genitive form which means ‘of the devil’, as in the modern day apostrophed ‘devil’s’.) The pardoner’s intention is to appall his ‘congregation’ by identifying to places of low repute as places of satanic worhip. The word ‘temple’, with its connotations of purity, is therefore sinisterly ironic and most disorientating.
By superfluitee abhominable;
Hir othes been so grete and so dampnable,
Oaths are the third subject in the ‘digression’ in lines 301-331 and they, of course appear in the tale itself e.g. ‘goddes armes’ (364).
That it is grisly for to here hem swere;
Our blissed lordes body they to-tere;
Graphically macabre. Later (380-81), the villainy of the three roysters is shown just after they leave the tavern: note the similarity of the lines. Here and elsewhere, consider how the tale, which is the main exemplum (example of moral point), is tightly connected to the sermon’s admonishment (rebuke). You might also look at the rhyming and vocabulary differences between these two pairs of lines:
‘And many a grisly ooth than han they sworn,
and Christes blessed body they to-rente
Hem thoughte Iewes rente him noght y-nough;
Anti-semitism was par for the course in the fourteenth century – a time when Jews were wholly excluded from England. The pardoner taps Catholic views about the circumstances of the crucifixion and uses it to further his purpose by hyperbolically showing that drunkards are even more sinful than Jews.
And ech of hem at otheres sinne lough.
Sins are amply covered in a variety of ways including breaking the Ten Commandments and references to the seven deadly sins.
And right anon than comen tombesteres
Fetys and smale, and yonge fruytesteres,
Singers with harpes, baudes, wafereres,
Whiche been the verray develes officeres
To kindle and blowe the fyr of lecherye,
Lechery is the first of the seven deadly sins to be specifically identified….
That is annexed un-to glotonye;
…. Gluttony is the second.
The holy writ take I to my witnesse,
The reference to ‘holy writ’ provides a smooth progression into the digressio (planned digression) using biblical exempla.
That luxurie is in wyn and dronkenesse.
‘luxurie’ = excess
Next page to follow one day.
Other pages (some mine) on The Pardoner’s Tale:
Very useful Study Guide giving insights into many aspects of the text, including a commentary on the significance of phrases.
You are free:
- to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
- to Remix — to adapt the work
Under the following conditions:
- Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified, as above, by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).
- Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
With the understanding that:
- Waiver — Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder.
- Public Domain — Where the work or any of its elements is in the public domain under applicable law, that status is in no way affected by the license.
- Other Rights — In no way are any of the following rights affected by the license:
- Notice — For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. The best way to do this is with a link to this web page.