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The Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer

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The Pardoner

The Pardoner

The Pardoner

The Pardoner

The Pardoner rides in the very back of the party in the General Prologue and is fittingly the most marginalized character in the company. His profession is somewhat dubious—pardoners offered indulgences, or previously written pardons for particular sins, to people who repented of the sin they had committed. Along with receiving the indulgence, the penitent would make a donation to the Church by giving money to the pardoner. Eventually, this “charitable” donation became a necessary part of receiving an indulgence. Paid by the Church to offer these indulgences, the Pardoner was not supposed to pocket the penitents’ charitable donations. That said, the practice of offering indulgences came under critique by quite a few churchmen, since once the charitable donation became a practice allied to receiving an indulgence, it began to look like one could cleanse oneself of sin by simply paying off the Church. Additionally, widespread suspicion held that pardoners counterfeited the pope’s signature on illegitimate indulgences and pocketed the “charitable donations” themselves.

Chaucer’s Pardoner is a highly untrustworthy character. He sings a ballad—“Com hider, love, to me!” (General Prologue, 672)—with the hypocritical Summoner, undermining the already challenged virtue of his profession as one who works for the Church. He presents himself as someone of ambiguous gender and sexual orientation, further challenging social norms. The narrator is not sure whether the Pardoner is an effeminate homosexual or a eunuch (castrated male). Like the other pilgrims, the Pardoner carries with him to Canterbury the tools of his trade—in his case, freshly signed papal indulgences and a sack of false relics, including a brass cross filled with stones to make it seem as heavy as gold and a glass jar full of pig’s bones, which he passes off as saints’ relics. Since visiting relics on pilgrimage had become a tourist industry, the Pardoner wants to cash in on religion in any way he can, and he does this by selling tangible, material objects—whether slips of paper that promise forgiveness of sins or animal bones that people can string around their necks as charms against the devil. After telling the group how he gulls people into indulging his own avarice through a sermon he preaches on greed, the Pardoner tells of a tale that exemplifies the vice decried in his sermon. Furthermore, he attempts to sell pardons to the group—in effect plying his trade in clear violation of the rules outlined by the host.

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His love of ideals, impressive military career, and his gentle manner
His eloquent speech, refined manners, and knowledge of military history
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pardoners tale

by sons88, October 06, 2013

his story begins off with him telling everyone about drunken Flemish people.
then talks about their vices
he is very hypercritical
hates swearing
story is about a guy who poisons everyone else so that he could have all the gold
his tale ends with him trying to sell relics even though he told everyone in his prologue that they are fake

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Whose side is he on?!

by MrsD23, September 25, 2014

I'm not finding any hint as to which side Chaucer took regarding the Peasants Revolt, the poor or the rich. Opinion based question I'm sure but I couldn't even begin to say. Any ideas?

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Jealous John?

by EmilyisSOgay, November 24, 2014

After further inspection I'd like to point out that John doesn't actually seem all that jealous. Just because the narrator says he is doesn't mean his actions point that way. He leaves Alisoun alone with Nicholas and he lets her listen to Absolon's love song.

Perhaps John is simple "sely" or naive, rather than jealous. He says he loves her more than his life, so maybe John is just blinded to her betrayal because he loves his wife so much. That might be a better moral to the story. He still cares about the earthly world (his wife) mor

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