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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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STORY LINE

INTRODUCTION

The Host asks the Pardoner for a joking story, but because of the kind of debauched man he is, the pilgrims are obviously afraid that he'll tell a bawdy story that's even worse than the Miller's. But before the Pardoner tells a moral tale, he must get drunk, "by St. Runyan." (This is a play on the Middle English word for "scrotum" ("runian"), in addition to being a saint's name.

The Pardoner boasts about being able to pull the wool over the eyes of the sheep, the villagers to whom he sells pardons. In bragging, does he reveal more of himself than he intends to? He tells about the "miracle" water that can cure jealousy, even in men who know their wives have slept with two or three priests (line 43). In his tone of voice we can hear him laugh at those who, like him, are hypocrites in their religious calling. But does he mean to reveal his contempt for humanity as being as corrupt as he is? (For example, assuming that wives will cheat on their husbands, and with priests no less.) It's unclear.


He says three times that his sole purpose is to make money for himself. He has no desire to be like the Apostles and live in poverty or by hard work. Nonetheless, he can tell a moral tale with a smooth tongue, even without being moral himself. We get the impression he doesn't realize his own words, or care that he himself will go to hell for all the sins he warns others against. This is what gives his tale, like the Wife of Bath's, such poignancy: he is saying more about himself than he realizes.

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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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