The Canterbury Tales

Chaucer's Pardoner: A Critique of Capitalism

In Chaucer's Canterbury Tales there is one pilgrim whose overriding character trait seems to be hypocrisy itself: the Pardoner, basking in sin and, at the same time, preaching violently to the masses against precisely his immoral behavior. Indeed, the difficult task of understanding the Pardoner's intent is further complicated by the interplay between the different audiences who are subject to his preaching. The pilgrims to whom his speech is addressed in the Tales, aware of the duplicity of the Pardoner's thoughts and behaviors, digest his words in an entirely different manner than the "ignorant" masses for which the speech was constructed and is most often preformed. Unraveling the layers of meaning within the Pardoner's speech requires us to be simultaneously aware of how the speech is received by both parties, as well as understanding the tension between truth and deception that encompasses even the Pardoner's professed motivations and desires.

From the pilgrims' point of view, the Pardoner is a hypocrite par excellence, capitalizing on his skill as an orator to drain the masses of what little wealth they have. However, the extreme, heartless, and seemingly indefensible position that the...

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