The Pardoner in The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales is a well-known book written by English author Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century. In this poem, many pilgrims travel to Canterbury to see Thomas Becket’s shrine. They entertain one another by exchanging tales as they move along. One of these storytellers is a dubious figure known as a pardoner who earns money by offering forgiveness of sins.

The character of the Pardoner:

An extensive prologue that the pardoner uses to describe his profession serves as the introduction to “The Pardoner’s Tale.” To ensure that no one would attack him when he enters a church, he first exhibits the official documents that he has received from the pope and other religious leaders. He then displays his relics and describes their significance. For instance, he has an amazing mitten. Anyone who puts their hand in the mitten will undoubtedly have success with his wheat and oat harvests. 

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He boasts about how much wealth he earns as gifts for his relics. He loves to preach against greed in his sermons in order to get people to give him more money. People are moved to repentance by his edifying sermons, but he is open about the fact that this is not his primary goal. He admits that he is avaricious and primarily seeks to obtain the wealth of others. He detests manual labor and does not wish to live in poverty. He therefore gladly accepts money from even the most impoverished widow. He doesn’t care if her kids starve to death.

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He tells his audience that even though he is a cruel man, he can deliver a fine moral story after downing a large draught of alcohol. Then he presents his cast, which consists of young Flemish individuals who are used to leading promiscuous lives. They consume alcohol, use profanity, gamble, and hang around in unsafe areas. 

The pardoner offers a speech about the negative effects of different vices before informing us what happened to these folks. Lot committed fornication while intoxicated, and Herod murdered John the Baptist as a result. He asserts that Attila the Hun passed away while asleep as a result of his drunkenness. Additionally, gluttony has detrimental effects. Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise because they failed to refrain from eating the forbidden fruit.

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The pardoner ends his digression by warning against gambling and cursing. Then he returns to his tale. 

The Pardoner’s Tale:

Early in the morning, three degraded young men entered a tavern. The sound of a clinking bell alerted them that a deceased person was being brought to his grave as the alcohol started to take effect. They were informed that one of their alcoholic companions had passed away. Death, a thief who had killed many others as a result of the bubonic plague, had slain him.

The proprietor of the tavern continued by recounting how a nearby community had been all but wiped out by Death. He thought that Death may be residing in this devastated area. The young men were angry and intoxicated. They confidently walked toward the nearby settlement, swearing they would track down Death and kill him.

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They come upon an elderly man on the way who seems dejected. He claims that the cause of his unhappiness is old age since he has traveled much while waiting for Death to come and take him. When the younger folks hear Death’s name, they ask where they may locate him. The elderly man points them into a grove, where, according to him, Death was just positioned beneath an oak tree. 

They rushed to the location the elderly guy had pointed out. To their surprise, they discovered eight bushels of gold coins where Death was supposed to be. Their thoughts were diverted when they spotted the treasure, and they stopped considering killing Death.

They are first stunned, but the cunningest of the three quickly cautions them that if they bring the gold into town during the day, people would mistake them for thieves. Because they must carry the gold at night, someone will need to run into town to get food and wine. The youngest of the three loses the lot and rushes toward the town.

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The moment their friend left, the two that were left plotted to kill him when he came back. Instead of splitting the treasure into three parts, they decided that it would be wiser to divide it in half.

The young man who went to town in the meantime made the decision to kill his two friends and keep the full treasure for himself. He acquired bottles, filled them with wine, and purchased some rat poison. He filled two of the bottles with the rat poison, left himself a third bottle of pure alcohol. 

His two friends murdered him when he returned. They celebrate by sitting down to drink their friend’s wine, but they each unintentionally choose a poisoned bottle. They lie dead next to their companion in a matter of minutes. The Pardoner closes by warning everyone to avoid the sin of greed, which can only result in death.

He is conscious of having forgotten something. In his bag, he possesses pardons and relics. He informs the pilgrims the worth of his relics and requests donations as per his norm, despite the fact that he has just informed them that the relics are fake.

Given that the Host is unquestionably the one who is most engulfed in sin, he grants the Host the first opportunity to approach and kiss the relics. The Pardoner is upset, and the Host suggests making a relic out of his genitalia, but the knight settles things down. The Host and Pardoner embrace, kiss, and make up before moving on with much laughter.


The Pardoner’s Tale is an illustration of the kind of narrative used frequently by preachers to drive home a moral lesson to their audiences. The Prologue to The Pardoner states that his major subject, “Greed is the basis of all evil,” does not alter. We might presume that the Pardoner is an expert storyteller who even incorporates elements of his sermon into this particular narrative. The Pardoner’s argument is quite clear—his story illustrates the terrible results of greed.

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