The Canterbury Tales Geoffrey Chaucerï¿½s The Canterbury Tales is a structured novel which starts with the narrator obtaining twenty traveling companions at an inn. They are all traveling to Canterbury to pay homage to a saint.
On their way, these colorful individuals decide to make the trip more bearable by having a story telling contest. Each will tell one story on the way to Canterbury, and one story on the way back. The winner will be decided by the innï¿½s host, who is accompanying them. Unfortunately, it seems Chaucer never got to finish the novel so there is only one story from each character. However, he does a wonderful job at depicting a lively picture with each description of the characters and their tales. Even though most of them are well portrayed, the one character that is best developed is the pardoner.
He sells the Churchï¿½s pardons to people who have sinned and seek absolution. He also preaches against sins, mostly avarice. Ironically, in the prologue to his tale, he admits being guilty of that sin and is quite proud of it. His tale is also about greed; in it, Death takes three greedy men to their early graves. Observing Chaucerï¿½s description of the pardoner, the pardonerï¿½s own confessions about himself, and his tale, one can observe how they are all appropriate characterizations of the pardoner.
The general prologue sets up the structure under which the novel will develop. The narrator meets his new companions and describes each one, some in more detail than the rest. When he begins to write about the pardoner, he tells of his physical appearance. ï¿½In driblets fell his locks behind his headDown to his shoulders which they overspreadThinly they fell, like rat-tails, one by oneï¿½ Comparing the pardonerï¿½s appearance with a ratï¿½s makes the reader associate him with this lowly, sly animal. Chaucer also continues to state that the pardoner has a voice like a goatï¿½s and bulging eyeballs.
The description of his physical appearance reveals a somewhat grotesque nature. Chaucer goes on to talk about the pardonerï¿½s job and also mentions that he owns ï¿½relicsï¿½ of saints, such as the Virgin Maryï¿½s veil, with which he earns a large amount of money. Obviously, these relics are not real so it can be easily concluded that the pardoner is a fraud, and has become rich at the expense of poor peopleï¿½s ignorance and gullibility. He also earns money by preaching to the congregation.
By the end of the description one gets the sense that he is the epitome of a corrupt church official. The knight, who tells a romantic story of wars and knights, begins the story telling and then each person tells a different tale. After a particularly sad and unjust story told by the physician, the host asks the pardoner to tell some ï¿½gay stories or jokes immediately.ï¿½ The pardoner responds by saying that he will tell a story with a moral, once he has had a drink and has eaten. Meanwhile, he begins talking about his job as a pardoner. When he first gets to a town, he shows the inhabitants his bishopï¿½s seal, so no one will be disrespectful.
Then he proceeds to show the townspeople his relics and his various cures for cattle sickness, jealousy, and even a way to increase grain production. He also warns the people that anyone who has committed a horrible sin and is ashamed of it cannot contribute money to the Church; since no one wants to be known as a sinner in the town, they all contribute a large amount of money, and through this trickery the pardoner becomes wealthy. After this, he beings to preach, always the subject of his sermons being Radix malorum est cupiditas or ï¿½Greed is the root of all evil.ï¿½ He admits to his traveling companions that he cares nothing for the soul of the people he preaches to; all he cares about is becoming rich, even if these people starve to death after giving money. He also freely admits that he preaches about avarice, the very sin he practices, so people will bitterly repent, but he will never give up this trickery for he does not want to do any labor with his hands. After revealing these secrets, the pardoner announces he has drunk enough and is ready to begin his tale.
The tale the pardoner tells is an exemplum, a story that illustrates a moral point. Once the pardoner begins his tale, he digressed and preaches against lust, gambling, gluttony and swearing, but he eventually gets back to the tale. In the pardonerï¿½s story, three dissolute men were in a tavern drinking when they heard a funeral knell. They asked a boy who was around who the dead person was; the boy replied that it was a man.