Greed Plays the Pardoner

.::. 12-15-2010 .::. written for pt. 2 of  British Lit. final .::. Abigail Morris .::.

+ Greed Plays the Pardoner

            The Canterbury Tales, written by Geoffrey Chaucer, is the tale of a medieval pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral. The characters which embark upon the journey are from all three estates, and are lively and interesting individuals. As the final member joins the band of travelers he proposes that the group each entertain the others with four stories—two on the way to Canterbury, and two on the way back. The group agrees and so off they set, having already been introduced to the reader by way of the descriptive analysis of Chaucer the character/narrator.

          In the group rides a pardoner who is an officer of the Church. His job is to pedal miracles, get out of purgatory free slips, false relics, etc. In his own prologue, he repeatedly states his theme, when giving sermons, presenting his fabrications, and apparently life in general, is radix malorum est cupiditas—the root of evil is greed. He tells the group in line 115 of his prologue “for myn entente is nat but for to winne,” and then restates the same claim again in various other lines as though greed was truly his only goal. However, if the reader pays careful attention to the characters overall behavior and bursts of excitement, then it would become clear that his motives are not only rooted in avarice. Perhaps once he had only been concerned with gaining wealth, but it no longer seems to be the wealth which drives his intentions, but rather the game of trickery which he has leaned to excel at.

          He refers to the common folk multiple times as ignorant and says things like “by this gaude have I wonne, yeer by yeer, an hundred mark sith I was pardoner” (ll.102-3, p.286) He also speaks frequently and rather happily about how easy a sort of game it is when his hands and tongue go so fast that it’s a joy to see his business of preaching avarice and sin to make them generous (p.287). So, he serves his purpose as a trickster who does seem to love the gains of his labors, but gets the most pleasure by successfully performing his trickery on the masses.

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