Term Paper: Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Pages: 4 (1443 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] Detail after detail is used in "The General Prologue" to portray this lack of manhood such as his high voice "as smal has hath a goot" (699), his lack of a beard (689-690), and his long, womanly hair with locks that "his shuldres overspradde" (678). One should also remember the castrated rooster. This signifies the fact that the Pardoner might also be sterile or unable to produce children (686-689). These are all unmanly qualities that reveal a deformity that the Pardoner desperately works to cover up by singing bawdy songs. But all of these are false, for the Pardoner is a eunuch.

The Pardoner weaves the tale of three young revelers who enjoy indulging in the ways of the world with such acts of sin that include gluttony, womanizing, and drinking. They have had a dear friend die from the plague, and they become obsessed with the notion to slay the sneakly thief known as Death in order to avenge their friend's passing. Upon inquiring where they can find Death, an old man directs them to a tree, where they find a great pile of gold. They draw lots and send the youngest back to town for food and wine.

Reiff explains that the young thief who is sent to town to buy food and wine mentions capons a term used for castrated roosters. He decides that he wants to keep all of the money for himself, and so he plots to kill his accomplices by poisoning their wine. However, when the young man goes to buy the poison, he needs an excuse so the "pothecarie" will sell it to him. First the young man says he needs the poison so "that he myghte his rattes quelle." Possibly the apothecary is not swayed by his need to kill rats, but the young man makes his case stronger by adding that a polecat is destroying his valuable property, his capons or castrated cocks.

And eek ther was a polat in his hawe,

That, as he seyde, his capouns hadde yslawe,

And fayn he wolde wreke hym, if he myghte,

On vermyn that destroyed hym by nyghte."

This argument is evidently persuasive, and the young man buys the poison, adds it to the wine, and gets rid of his fellow thieves.

Meanwhile, the remaining two thieves plot to kill the youngest, so as to split the gold only two ways, while he puts poison in the wine, so as to keep all the treasure himself. When he returns, they stab him, and then drink the poisoned wine; thus all three indeed find Death. After the end of the tale, The Pardoner boldly follows his sermon with an attempt to sell the "holy relics" but he first turns to the Host, who repulses him rudely, so that the Knight has to intervene to prevent a quarrel.

Chaucer's irony is apparent in the fact that the Pardoner tells of his own Tale. The three thieves might be seen as various personalities portrayed by the Pardoner. The Pardoner remains disillusioned with his own actions, just as the three thieves were disillusioned with how they would find Death. While the thieves have inner turmoil upon the death of their friend, the Pardoner fails to recognize the "forewarning" of his own end. While the thieves greed led to their end, so the Pardoners greed will also result in his spiritual death. The Pardoner is unable to see what is most apparent. While he is able to preach to the "sinners" he is unable to live as he preaches. The hypocrisy within his message creates an ironic tone and extenuates his spiritual impotency over his physically impotency. Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia concludes that "The Pardoner boldly follows his sermon with an attempt to sell his relics; he turns first to the Host, who repulses him rudely, so that the Knight has to intervene to prevent a quarrel" (736).

Works Cited

Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia. The Pardoner's Tale. Gale Database. 1987. Retrieved April 17, 2004.

Harvard. (2003, March). "The Pardoner's Tale." Retrieved March 10, 2003, from http://icg.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/canttales/gp/.

Reiff, Raychel. (1999, Fall). "Chaucer's The Pardoner's Tale." The Explicator, (57) 195.

Ward & Trent, et al. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1907-21; New York: Bartleby.com, 2000 (www.bartleby.com/cambridge/).[March… [END OF PREVIEW]

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