The Canterbury Tales

The Pardoner's Sin in The Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Pardoner's Tale," a relatively straightforward satirical and anti-capitalist view of the church, contrasts motifs of sin with the salvational properties of religion to draw out the complex self-loathing of the emasculated Pardoner. In particular, Chaucer concentrates on the Pardoner's references to the evils of alcohol, gambling, blasphemy, and money, which aim not only to condemn his listeners and unbuckle their purses, but to elicit their wrath and expose his eunuchism.

Chaucer's depiction of the Pardoner in "The General Prologue" is unsparing in its effeteness; he has "heer as yelow as wax/ But smoothe it heeng as dooth a strike of flex/ By ounces heenge his lokkes that he hadde...But thinne it lay, by colpons, oon by oon" (677-681). The pale, lanky qualities of his hair relate to his androgynous makeup, and the repetition of "heeng" ironically foreshadows his castration. Further hints of the Pardoner's being a eunuch, such as "A vois he hadde as smal as hath a goot/ No beerd hadde he, ne never shold have," are interspersed between description of his "feined flaterye and japes" that accompany his selling of false relics...

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