The Pardoner’s Tale as Sermon (Form)

The tale draws on a Third Century Buddhist tale, of which there were many versions.  It is also ‘the retelling of an ancient plague legend, thick with gloomy and mysterious atmosphere’.

Chaucer employs fiction and fable, illusion. The tale exemplifies the pardoner at work in the genre of a Sermon / homily.  Sermons were given on street corners, in market places, at market crosses.  They comprised news, stories and ideas.  Often had a narrative aspect (the tale starts with a ‘once upon a time’ formula).  They had many references to the Bible, biblical figures, philosophers etc.

The Tale is a sermon against the deadly sins and it finally offers the chance of heavenly bliss.  However, it is unlike real sermons of the time with too much attention to the main exemplum of the three scoundrels and too little elaboration of the text itself.  The Pardoner’s Tale finishes with the pardoner’s homily (moralising talk) after having given a concrete impression of dissipation: swearing , gambling, gluttony (and its consequence, lust).  He exposes the devil, displays his fascination with evil and presents the despair of the lost soul ‘In Adam all die’.


Seven deadly sins are: pride, anger, lechery, envy, gluttony, avarice and sloth (mnemonic PALE GAS).  If they remain unatoned, they lead to damnation.

Pride, envy and sloth are sins of the devil

Lechery, gluttony and sloth are sins of the flesh

Avarice is a sin of the world. It is also known as greed, ‘coveityse’ and ‘cupiditas’.  It is the yearning for possessions and wealth.

(One might refer also to Seven Deadly Sins in Scene v of ‘Faustus’)

The ‘Daily Sins’ specifically exposed in the tale are:

  1. Gluttony: (in The Prologue, the pardoner had refused to tell his story without stopping at a tavern first). Numerous authorities given. Concentrated images: (199) of throte & pryvee, stomach & dung (206-7), belly as false god, (226) snoring onomatopoeic Sampsoun, broken rhythm, IC keep off wine, Lust linked with gluttony linked (transferred epithet of ‘lecherous thing’ in 221).
  2. Gambling ‘Hasardrye’ (branch of Avarice) which is resignation of one’s life to chance, Pardoner threatens pilgrims with sudden death (606ff).  Definition 263-6, then outline, then exempla 275-300
  3. Blaspheming.  (301-331)

Very useful Study Guide giving insights into many aspects of the text, including a commentary on the significance of phrases.


Modern English rendering 

Chaucer: The Man and his Work

The Pardoner of the Tale

The Pardoner’s Tale as Sermon (Form)

The Pardoner’s Tale Annotated Text (first few lines)

The Pardoner’s Tale: context

Modern English version

The Pardoner’s Tale: questions

The Pardoner’s Tale: the uncanny

The Pardoner’s Tale: writing style and characterisation



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