The Pardoner Quotes in The Canterbury Tales

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

The Pardoner is a man of ambiguous honesty. He travels at the tail end of the company as they travel to Canterbury, and is honest in how he tricks those looking for faith.

The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales, written by Geoffrey Chaucer, tells the story of a company of men and women that meet at the Tabard Inn, while they are traveling to Canterbury to see the shrine of the martyr Saint Thomas Becket. They decide to ride together since they have the same end goal, and during their ride, they agree to a small wager. They are to each tell two tales on the way to and from the shrine, and whoever tells the best tales will get their meal paid for by the others in the group. Although there are 29 people in the company, only 22 full tales were written by Chaucer, as well as 2 partial ones. It is believed that the book was never finished, since there were so many revisions found in his home, yet no complete book. The book was published posthumously in 1478, 78 years after his passing.

The Pardoner

The Pardoner travels at the end of the company, which many believe was intentional by Chaucer to show The Pardoner's low standing within the group. A pardoner in those days was technically a man of faith who was imbued with power from the Bishop to pardon people who truly wished to repent their sins. In addition to offering forgiveness, they were also supposed to collect donations to the church. However, throughout history, pardoners were known for taking the donations as bribes and keeping them for themselves, while still displaying fake amnesty to the people. Thus, many pardoners were thought to be crooks. They also were known for peddling false relics.

A Man of False Faith

The Pardoner in The Canterbury Tales is the epitome of what pardoners were believed to be. He carries around the Bishop's seal and paper pardons, while also carrying a variety of fake gold crosses, and pigs' bones masquerading as saints' remains. The Pardoner is proud of his persona and the act he portrays. He says:

''My lords,' said he, 'in churches when I preach

I take great pains to have a haughty speech

And ring it out as roundly as a bell;

I know it all by heart, what I've to tell.''

He knows that his sermons must be worded in such a way as to inspire the congregation to donate and to request the paper pardons he is willing to give for a price. He engages the people by using his knowledge of Latin by stating:

''A few words in the Latin tongue I say

To add a little spice to what I preach

And stir men to devotion as I teach.''

Even though his actions are egregious, he takes pride in telling the group of the fake products he lugs along to sell to parishioners. The Pardoner says:

''And then I show to them like precious stones

My long glass cases crammed with rags and bones,

For these are relics (so they think).''

Although the power of the position is not lost on The Pardoner, he is still solely in it for the money.

A Man of Greed

The Pardoner is on his way to Canterbury to swindle the people who have flocked there to see the shrine of the martyr and saint. He knows this crowd will be excited to buy his goods because they are caught up in the religious fervor and are not terribly smart. He says:

'' 'And with this trick I've won each year about

A hundred marks since first I started out.

I stand there in my pulpit like a clerk,

These ignorants sit down, and right to work.''

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