The Canterbury Tales

A Pardoner's Guilt

Chaucer is renowned for his psychologically intricate character portrayals. The Pardoner, an irreverent character in Chaucer's framework narrative The Canterbury Tales, is an excellent example of just such a complex character. Although alcohol may have been partially responsible for the Pardoner affording his companions such an introspective narrative, the insight into the Pardoner's character is intoxicating. Overwhelmed by a subconscious need to "pardon" or absolve himself of the guilt caused by a dishonest lifestyle, the Pardoner exploits his prologue and tale as vehicles of confession and edification.

The Pardoner begins by introducing himself to the reader as being a disingenuous purveyor of false relics. The insincere ecclesiast reveals, "I say in Latin some few words or so to spice my sermon; it flavors my appeal and stirs my listeners to greater zeal" (ls.16-18). Rather than incorporating the Latin text into the sermon in a manner that would prove advantageous to his parishioners, the Pardoner confesses that he simply utters the words for their euphonic and stimulatory effects. He later states, "Then I display my cases made of glass crammed to the top with rags and bones. They pass for...

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