The Pardoner's Prologue and Tale
The Official Profession of the Pardoner
- Medieval Catholics believed that souls
not destined for hell would spend a certain
amount of time in Purgatory, being painfully cleansed of sin before being
- Catholic doctrine also included the
notion of the "treasury of merit"--a potential
source of grace and mercy created through the virtuous deeds of the saints.
- The church claimed that if ordinary
believers freely confessed their sins, asked for
forgiveness, and of their own free will carried out acts which showed their
and repentance, a certain measure of special grace could be released from
which would remit some of the time they might have spent in purgatory.
- One manifestation of one's repentance
might be a significant monetary contribution
to a charitable institution. To this end, the church licensed pardoners--often
to charity hospitals--to collect such contributions and in return to distribute
- This was supposed to represent a free
gift in return for a free gift; if you were seeking to
show contrition for your sins, and were spontaneously moved to give money
to a par-
doner, he could freely respond with the official documentation of indulgence.
officially allowed to keep a small proportion of the monies given to him.
But the system
was widely abused--pardoners would in effect sell indulgences & would keep
the money they gained.
Games and Fiction-Making in The
Fictions as Verbal Games
- Recall the official agenda is the quest
for tales of best sentence AND solas.
- Also note the game of verisimilitude:
the links between the tales which suggest that
the frame narrative is direct reportage.
- Lastly, don't forget the games the
pilgrims play with one another.
The Pardoner's Game
- There's an ambiguous boundary between
"game and earnest" in the Pardoner's game--or
games--as set forth in his Prologue.
- Note: The Pardoner is asked by Host
to tell of "mirth and japes" and by the "gentil" pilgrims
to tell of "some moral thing."
- The Pardoner explains that the "false
japes" he uses in the pulpit frame his performance
of a performance, namely his re-enactment of his own sermonizing.
- The Pardoner plays a controlled (?)
game of self-revelation, inviting a kind of complicity
from his audience? Is this self-disclosure as a tactic to create intimacy?
Tale and Teller
- The Pardoner's favorite text: radix
malorum est cupiditas. His tale is the exemplum that heusually
uses in his preaching. Story exemplifies his favorite theme: that avarice
root of all evil.
- His characters, like him, are spiritually
blind, and in this case fatally literalistic (the letter killeth); they "materialize"
Death as the "false traitour" and "thief" who can be sought out and killed.
(As opposed to exercising the faith which promises that the virtuous soul
enjoys eternal life after death, and thus defeating death.)
- The material wealth that apparently
substitutes for death (the gold coins found under the tree) turns out to represent
death after all...
- The Pardoner's final movehis attempt
to get offerings from the audience to whom he's
exposed his practices. Is he carried away by his own performance? Convinced
by the powerof his own exemplum? Hubristically going for the biggest sting
Last But Not Least...
Note lines 627-30, the Pardoner's sudden
appeal to the figure who in a Christian context
is the supreme Pardoner, the one true source of all mercy, Christ himself.
- Who is speaking here?
- What are the implications of the Pardoner's
- Is this part of his usual performance?
- Has the Pardoner briefly become the
vessel for the transmission of the logos, the
divine Word, despite himself?
- Who is the "I" who "will not deceive"
his audience--that is, who speaks at this moment?
Consider the Pardoner's Prologue, Tale
and Epilogue as a multi-layered piece of fiction
making. Within the embracing fiction of The Canterbury Tales, the Pardoner
tells the truth
about his lies, but in the very process of revealing his lies, he nevertheless
manages to offer
a potentially moving fiction--the tale of the revelers--which invites the listener
a scriptural truth.