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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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THE PARDONER'S TALE

PLOT

The Pardoner, like the Wife of Bath, begins his tale with a long introduction that shows us remarkable things about his character. He freely admits he uses the same tricks every place he goes, with the same sermon-"Love of money is the root of all evil." He shows people his credentials, then the animal bones he passes off as holy relics, which he lies can cure sick animals, increase livestock, even cure jealousy. He makes 100 marks a year by preaching against greed, shaming people into parting with their money. But he does this only out of his own covetousness, not to help people. He won't live in poverty, that's for sure. Even though he knows he's completely unscrupulous, he can still tell a moral tale.

The Pardoner sets up the pilgrims the same way he does his gullible parishioners. First he rails against drunkenness, gluttony, gambling, and swearing. Then he tells the warning tale of three young men of Flanders (Belgium) who are guilty of all these things.

While they're drinking in a bar, a dead body goes by. It happens to be a friend of theirs. A servant boy tells them Death is the culprit who is going around killing everyone. (It's during a plague.) The three rioters decide- drunkenly-to go find this Death and kill him.


They meet an old man who is covered except for his head. He is polite, but the three young men are rude to him. The old man wants to die, but can't find anyone who will trade his youth for the old man's age. Thinking he's Death's spy, the rioters make him tell where Death is. The man points to a large tree, saying they'll find Death underneath it.

But what they find is eight bushes of florins (gold coins), and, delighted, decide to wait until night to move them. They send the youngest rogue into town to buy wine, and while he's gone, the other two decide to stab the third when he returns, so they can split the gold. The youngest, meanwhile, has the same idea and poisons the wine in order to kill the other two.

Everything goes as planned-all three ending up dying. Alas, cries the Pardoner, look what comes from gluttony and pride! And he offers pardons for redemption, although he admits that Christ's pardon is better than his.

In an epilogue to his tale, the Pardoner actually tries to palm off some of his "relics" on his fellow pilgrims, starting with the Host, whom he calls the most sinful of the group. The Host is furious, and it takes the Knight to get them to kiss and make up.

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