The Canterbury Tales

Avarice and Irony: The Psychology of the Pardoner and his Tale

Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales introduces readers to several fascinating and dynamic characters. Perhaps the most fascinating of all is the Pardoner, whose prologue and tale are filled with irony. The Pardoner is a complex character whose blatant hypocrisy and spiritual atrophy serve to give the reader an understanding of the irony of his tale and his situation, as well as a glimpse into his inner self.

In the General Prologue the narrator introduces the Pardoner with a rather startlingly effeminate description: "This Pardoner hadde heer as yellow as wex, / But smoothe it heeng as doothe a strike of flex; / By ounces heenge his lokkes that he hadde, / And therwith he his shuldres overspradde" (677-680). Thus the pardoner is described as a beardless man with long, flowing yellow hair and a high-pitched goat voice. The reader also gets the sense that the Pardoner is either a eunuch or a homosexual from the narrator's comment: "I trowe he were a gelding or mare" (693). This image seems completely incongruous with a man of the Church, especially the suggestion that he may be gay. This allegation does not appear anywhere in the Pardoner's Tale, however, so it is never confirmed or denied. This...

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