Character Profile | Summary of the Pardoner in the Prologue | Summary of the Pardoner’s Tale | Character Analysis | Literary Analysis | Video | | Additional Helpful Websites | Work Cited

The Pardoner.jpg
Depiction of the Pardoner

Character Profile

The Pardoner is one of the more flamboyant, but also devious characters from The Canterbury Tales. He is a member of the clergy but that doesn’t assert that he is an honest, trustworthy person. Instead the pardoner is extremely corrupt and deceives people to believe that they can essentially buy their way to heaven. The Pardoner’s job is supposed to be to absolve people of their sins when they seek him out, but instead he cares little about the correction of their sins. The Pardoner is more concerned with making a personal profit. Therefore, he steal's people's donations that intended for the church and in turn offers indulgences to people. These indulgences were believed to wipe away people from their sin and guarantee entrance into heaven, however; this was merely a scheme of the Pardoners for person gain and wealth. Although very immoral, the Pardoner is a member of the clergy, and therefore enjoys powerful positions in medieval England and would be considered a part of the upper class.


Summary of the Pardoner in the Prologue

When the Pardoner is introduced in the prologue he has just returned from a trip to Rome, in fact his bags where still packed containing letters of pardon (indulgences) that he intends to sell. The narrator describes to readers his ultimate job as Pardoner which is to give pardons to criminals for their sins in return for donations that the Pardoner usually pocketed. It is learned that the pardoner can make quite a profit in this illicit business because he is a very talented preacher who uses flattery and deceit to easily persuade his subjects. The Pardoner’s physical characteristics are described as having “hair as yellow as wax, but it hung as smoothly as a hank of flax; wisp by wisp his locks hung down…” (ll. 680-682). The Pardoner is also known for his great singing abilities because he knows that he has to sing well if he wants people to donate their money. The Pardoner is a close friend to the Summoner, another deceitful character. In the prologue Chaucer also points out that he is uncertain of the Pardoner's sexuality and speculates that he may be a homosexual.

Summary of the Pardoner’s Tale

The Pardoner begins his tale by preaching about all of the vices and sinful behavior that happens as a result of alcohol and gluttony. He even references to specific stories in the bible where acts of sin were done as a result of alcohol. He makes his viewpoint clear to his listeners that the greatest deeds and triumphs that a person reads about in the Old Testament were all done through prayer and without alcohol. The Pardoner further argues that gambling, including cheating and lying, goes against God and should be avoided.
Pardoner`s Tale.jpg
The characters of the tale
The Pardoner then discucsses three arrogant ruffians who get drunk at a bar. They see a dead person being brought by the bar and realize that it is one of their friends. In disgust, they agree to be brothers and go out into town searching for death in hopes of killing him. Instead they find an old man who they continue to disrespect and they ask him where they can find death. He points to a nearby oak tree where they find bags of gold on the ground. While the younger ruffian goes to find food, to other two plot to kill him when he returns so they can have more money for themselves. While the youngest ruffian is getting food he also buys poison. The youngest intends to use this method to kill the other two men so he can have the money all to himself. He ends up being killed first, but then the other two men drink his poison and die shortly after. The pardoner uses this story to preach to his listeners about the negative outcomes of greed, alcohol, and sin. The Pardoner then tells his audience that they should suspend from their greediness and allow him to pardon them of their sins so that they can attain their holiness again.

Character Analysis

The Pardoner is easily displayed as a morally corrupt character in The Canterbury Tales through almost every aspect of his character, those being his occupation, actions, and sexuality:
A sample indulgence

The occupation of being a pardoner
A pardoner is simply one who sells indulgences. Selling indulgences is quite close to a “fake” occupation, as they are, most simply put, pieces of paper with writing on them. Indulgences do not rid one of his sins and guarantee an afterlife in Heaven; they are all simply a scheme to con people and take their money. By the Pardoner doing this, it provides a direct account for his corruption. Furthermore, it is ironic that the Pardoner goes and preaches to his listeners about staying away from the evils of greed when he himself falls victim to this evil. The Pardoner truly represents everything the church does not stand for and it is satirical that he is a member of the clergy, a person that is supposed to live by the rules of the church, but yet he completely goes against these rules through his deceitfulness and stealing of money.

The Pardoner’s actions
The Pardoner began his tale with warnings of corruption through alcohol and in doing so shows his major flaw: hypocrisy. In the long introduction to his tale warning of corruption, the Pardoner takes a clear stand on the evilness associated with greed, alcohol, and gluttony that one can face and how important it is for one to avoid it. However, the Pardoner himself is corrupt, as he drank before telling his story and through his occupation and selling of indulgences he goes against everything he pretends to stand for. By telling the audience to shy away from greediness and allow him to pardon them, the Pardoner is also showing his characteristic of hypocrisy. He is telling the travelers to be pardoned not for their benefit, but for his own greediness and desire to earn more money. The pardoner is placed is the tale as a representation of the overall corruptness of the church during that time. Through his actions as a Pardoner he placed donations to the church as almost a necessary rite of passage in order for one to go the heaven and it shows how church officials including himself were not always honest.

It has often been noted that the sexuality of the Pardoner is shrouded in mystery. Many readers interpret the Pardoner to be homosexual or practice
sodomy, while many others believe he is missing sexual body parts. Each of these is symbolic in nature; sodomy is a sin and as a member of the clergy
this would prove the Pardoner’s corruption further. The Pardoner possibly missing body parts is also important as Will Stockton states, “the Pardoner’s
possible testicular lack has long been correlated with his spiritual ‘castration’−with his status as a sinner” (Stockton 151). In each of these ways, the
Pardoner’s sexuality is causing both corruption of him and proving his hypocrisy further.

The Pardoner is a character who completely goes against everything he stands for and warns against, which makes him the opposite of what he is originally seen as. Originally, one would look upon the Pardoner as a honest clergy member looking for the benefit of others. However, he a sinful, greedy character who contrasts all that one of the clergy should be. This shows a direct relationship to the story he tells. The characters originally show themselves as friends who are in a plot to take the money together. In the end, the characters' plan was a hoax and each of them told lies and were deceitful, similar to the deceit of the Pardoner.

Literary Analysis

The Pardoner’s tale and the Pardoner himself provide a satire of the Church. The Pardoner introduces greed and gluttony as two major sins, however prior to telling his story, he takes a drink himself. The Pardoner’s story then describes men who deceive and kill each other out of greed for material procession, clearly providing the lesson to avoid greed. The Pardoner then tries to sell indulgences to the travelers to earn money. The hypocrisy of the Pardoner’s character is clear, and his character is also said to manifest “corruption or moral vacuity” (Copeland 353). Chaucer essentially used the Pardoner’s stature as a Clergy member and his corrupt characteristics to show that the Church itself is corrupt. This relationship is clear; obviously having such a corrupt member shows that the Church itself is corrupt on the inside. Chaucer’s satire here is interesting and all other stories told in The Canterbury Tales can be related to the Church as considering religion is the basis for the journey of the travelers. The religious figures Chaucer represents in The Canterbury Tales all deviate in one way or another from what was originally expected of them. Overall, this text serves to demonstrate the corruptness of the church during a time when it had such enormous wealth and power over Europe while everyday citizens were struggling with disease, plague and death. It was inevitable that such works would be written with cynical nature towards the church because of its great status and prestige during that time period. Chaucer utilized the Pardoner to show that the church as an entire entity demonstrated hypocrisy with their elaborate cathedrals and their vast amount of money.


A short animation showing the Pardoner's Tale

Additional Helpful Websites

Work Cited

Copeland, Rita. "The Pardoner's Body and the Disciplining of Rhetoric." (2010): n. pag.Academic Search Premier. Web. 24 Nov. 2012.
Stockton, Will. "Cynicism and the Anal Erotics of Chaucer's Pardoner." (2008): n pag.Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.