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Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Pardoner's Introduction, Prologue, Tale and Epilogue" from The Canterbury Tales.

The Canterbury Tales

(from Norton)

- originally conceived as a series of 120 tales x but: completed 22 tales, began 2 others

- the title: the Canterbury Cathedral was a favourite pilgrimage site, the site of murder of archbishop Thomas Becket, a famous English saint (murdered 1170)

- uses a fictitious pilgrimage as the framing device for a number of stories

<> collections of tales linked in such a way were common in the later Middle Ages (e.g. Boccaccio's Decameron with 10 narrators telling 10 tales within 10 days)

x unlike in Boccaccio, Chaucer represents a wide spectrum of ranks and occupations in his narrators

- the variety of tellers is matched by the diversity of their tales: the stories contrast in genre, style, tone and values

- some of the stories are linked by the interchanges among the pilgrims who react to the tale and sometimes quarrel

- several narrators' stories also respond to topics taken up by previous tellers


(from Norton)

- the Pardoner boasts about his own depravity and the ingenuity with which he abuses his office and extracts money from poor and ignorant people

- he delivers a bombastic sermon against gluttony, gambling and swearing to show off his professional skills

- his tale is made up by an exemplum, i.e. illustration of the scriptural text elaborating on his motto against greed

Note on the Office of the Pardoner

- the pardoner's job was to collect money for the charitable enterprises, e.g. hospitals, supported by the church

- he was licensed by the pope to award pardon for confessed and repented sins in exchange for donations

- pardoners were permitted to work only in a prescribed area x but: in practice they ignored the restrictions, preached emotional sermons and claimed extraordinary power for their pardons

"The Pardoner's Introduction"

The Introduction, Prologue and Tale consists of irregular stanzas of varied length, rhyming aabb. This rhyme scheme reinforces the humorous effect.

The Host is greatly affected by the Physician's tale which has just finished. He is moved by pity for the girl from the tale who suffered for her beauty and eventually died for it. He asks the Pardoner to supply a more merry story. The other pilgrims ask to hear nothing of the Pardoner's ribaldry and wish for a moral tale.

"The Pardoner's Prologue"

The Pardoner introduces his favourite theme with a Latin quotation saying that greed is the root of all evil. He proceeds to describes his business, explaining that he uses supposedly holy relics to enhance people's religious devotion. He makes the uneducated folk believe that his relics are cure for all thinkable sorrows. He boasts with the power of his preaching and frankly reveals that his aim is not to absolve people of sins but rather to derive profit from man's sinful nature. He is fully aware and nearly proud of his doing the very contrary of what he preaches.

"The Pardoner's Tale"

In Flanders there was a party of wicked young men who shared their time between drinking, hazard and women. After describing these men's practice, the Pardoner starts preaching against gluttony. He follows with a sermon against the evil of drinking. He relates a brief story about the ambassador Chilon who gave up his task because he did not want to be associated with hazard dominating the country to which he was sent. He follows with a story about king Demetrius in the same vein. Then he goes on to condemn swearing.

He returns to the original story of the wicked party from Flanders. Three men of the party sit in a pub when a mourning procession passes by. It is the funeral of their former companion who was brought away by Death. They decide to go and kill Death for his being responsible for taking away so many lives. On their way they meet an ancient man who claims to have offered his life to Death but was refused. He shows them the way to Death.

At the appointed place they do not find Death but a gold treasure. The three agree to share the gold among themselves. The youngest of them is sent to fetch provisions while the other two should wait with the gold until the night. In the dark all the three should be able to carry the treasure to their respective homes unobserved. The two waiting with the gold plot to murder the third and to share the gold between themselves only. The third man decides to poison the other two and to keep the gold for himself. All of the three succeed to such extend that one is stabbed to death and the other two die of poisoning. The Pardoner condemns the vices demonstrated in his tale. 


"The Pardoner's Epilogue" 

The Pardoner offers to absolve the pilgrims from their sins in exchange for money or commodities. He shamelessly invites the pilgrims to kiss his holy relics and pay for their worship. The pilgrims laugh at and ridicule the Pardoner. Then the Knight suggests that the Host should kiss the Pardoner himself, he does so and the company rides on.


  • Author

    Geoffrey Chaucer. (c. 1343 - 1400). 
  • Full Title

    "The Pardoner's Introduction", "The Pardoner's Prologue" and "The Pardoner's Tale" from The Canterbury Tales.
  • Composed

    Between c. 1386 - 1400. 
  • Form

    Narrative verse.

Works Cited

Abrams, M. H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1999.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Pardoner's Introduction". The Canterbury TalesThe Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams.  7th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1999. 281-282.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Pardoner's Prologue". The Canterbury TalesThe Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams.  7th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1999. 282-285.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Pardoner's Tale". The Canterbury TalesThe Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams.  7th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1999. 285-295.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Pardoner's Epilogue". The Canterbury TalesThe Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams.  7th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1999. 295-296.


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