The Canterbury Tales: The Pardoner's Tale

Heere bigynneth the Pardoners Tale

In Flaundres whilom was a compaignye Of yonge folk, that haunteden folye, As riot, hasard, stywes, and tavernes, Wher as with harpes, lutes, and gyternes They daunce and pleyen at dees, bothe day and nyght, And eten also and drynken over hir myght, Thurgh which they doon the devel sacrifise Withinne that develes temple in cursed wise, By superfluytee abhomynable. Hir othes been so grete and so dampnable That it is grisly for to heere hem swere. Oure blissed lordes body they totere - Hem thoughte that Jewes rente hym noght ynough - And ech of hem at otheres synne lough. And right anon thanne comen tombesteres, Fetys and smale, and yonge frutesteres, Syngeres with harpes, baudes, wafereres, Whiche been the verray develes officeres To kyndle and blowe the fyr of lecherye, That is annexed unto glotonye. The hooly writ take I to my witnesse, That luxurie is in wyn and dronkenesse. Lo, how that dronken Looth, unkyndely 200 Lay by hise doghtres two, unwityngly; So dronke he was, he nyste what he wroghte. Herodes, whoso wel the stories soghte, Whan he of wyn was repleet at his feeste, Right at his owene table he yaf his heeste To sleen the Baptist John, ful giltelees. Senec seith a good word, doutelees; He seith, he kan no difference fynde Bitwix a man that is out of his mynde, And a man which that is dronkelewe, But that woodnesse fallen in a shrewe Persevereth lenger than dooth dronkenesse. O glotonye, ful of cursednesse! O cause first of oure confusioun! O original of oure dampnacioun Til Crist hadde boght us with his blood agayn! Lo, how deere, shortly for to sayn, Aboght was thilke cursed vileynye! Corrupt was al this world for glotonye! Adam oure fader, and his wyf also, Fro Paradys to labour and to wo Were dryven for that vice, it is no drede. For whil that Adam fasted, as I rede, He was in Paradys, and whan that he Eet of the fruyt deffended on the tree, Anon he was out cast to wo and peyne. O glotonye, on thee wel oghte us pleyne! O, wiste a man how manye maladyes Folwen of excesse and of goltonyes, He wolde been the moore mesurable Of his diete, sittynge at his table. Allas, the shorte throte, the tendre mouth Maketh that est and west and north and south In erthe, in eir, in water, man to swynke To gete a glotoun deyntee mete and drynke! Of this matiere, O Paul! wel kanstow trete: "Mete unto wombe and wombe eek unto mete Shal God destroyen bothe," as Paulus seith. Allas, a foul thyng is it, by my feith, To seye this word, and fouler is the dede Whan man so drynketh of the white and rede That of his throte he maketh his pryvee Thurgh thilke cursed superfluitee. The Apostel wepying seith ful pitously, "Ther walken manye of whiche yow toold have I - I seye it now wepyng with pitous voys, That they been enemys of Cristes croys, Of whiche the ende is deeth, wombe is hir god." O wombe! O bely! O stynkyng cod! Fulfilled of donge and of corrupcioun, At either ende of thee foul is the soun; How greet labour and cost is thee to fynde, Thise cookes, how they stampe, and streyne, and grynde, And turnen substaunce into accident, To fulfillen al thy likerous talent! Out of the harde bones knokke they The mary, for they caste noght awey, That may go thurgh the golet softe and swoote; Of spicerie, of leef, and bark, and roote, Shal been his sauce ymaked by delit, To make hym yet a newer appetit. But, certes, he that haunteth swiche delices Is deed, whil that he lyveth in tho vices. A lecherous thyng is wyn, and dronkenesse Is ful of stryvyng and of wrecchednesse. O dronke man, disfigured is thy face! Sour is thy breeth, foul artow to embrace, And thurgh thy dronke nose semeth the soun, As though thow seydest ay, "Sampsoun! Sampsoun!" And yet, God woot, Sampsoun drank nevere no wyn! Thou fallest, as it were a styked swyn; Thy tonge is lost, and al thyn honeste cure; For dronkenesse is verray sepulture Of mannes wit and his discrecioun, In whom that drynke hath dominacioun. He kan no conseil kepe, it is no drede. Now kepe yow fro the white and fro the rede, And namely, fro the white wyn of Lepe, That is to selle in fysshstrete, or in Chepe. This wyn of Spaigne crepeth subtilly In othere wynes, growynge faste by, Of which ther ryseth swich fumositee, That whan a man hath dronken draughtes thre And weneth that he be at hoom in Chepe, He is in Spaigne, right at the toune of Lepe, Nat at the Rochele, ne at Burdeux toun; And thanne wol he seye "Sampsoun, Sampsoun!" But herkneth, lordynges, o word I yow preye, That alle the sovereyn actes, dar I seye, Of victories in the Olde Testament, Thurgh verray God that is omnipotent Were doon in abstinence and in preyere. Looketh the Bible, and ther ye may it leere. Looke, Attilla, the grete conquerour, Deyde in his sleepe, with shame and dishonour, Bledynge ay at his nose in dronkenesse. A capitayn sholde lyve in sobrenesse; And over al this avyseth yow right wel, What was comaunded unto Lamwel, Nat Samuel, but Lamwel, seye I - Redeth the Bible and fynde it expresly, Of wyn yevyng to hem that han justise. Namoore of this, for it may wel suffise. And now that I have spoken of glotonye, Now wol I yow deffenden hasardrye. Hasard is verray mooder of lesynges, And of dedeite and cursed forswerynges, Blaspheme of Crist, manslaughtre and wast also Of catel and of tyme, and forthermo It is repreeve and contrarie of honour For to ben holde a commune hasardour. And ever the hyer he is of estaat, The moore is he holden desolaat; If that a prynce useth hasardrye, In all governaunce and policye He is as by commune opinioun Yholde the lasse in reputacioun. Stilboun, that was a wys embassadour, Was sent to Corynthe in ful greet honour, Fro Lacidomye to maken hire alliaunce. And whan he cam hym happede par chaunce, That alle the gretteste that were of that lond Pleyynge atte hasard he hem fond. For which, as soone as it myghte be, He stal hym hoom agayn to his contree, And seyde, "Ther wol I nat lese my name, Ne I wol nat take on me so greet defame. Yow for to allie unto none hasardours. Sendeth othere wise embassadours, For by my trouthe me were levere dye Than I yow sholde to hasardours allye. For ye that been so glorious in honours Shul nat allyen yow with hasardours As by my wyl, ne as by my tretee." This wise philosophre, thus seyde hee. Looke eek that to the kyng Demetrius The kyng of Parthes, as the book seith us, Sente him a paire of dees of gold, in scorn, For he hadde used hasard ther-biforn, For which he heeld his glorie or his renoun At no value or reputacioun. Lordes may fynden oother maner pley Honeste ynough, to dryve the day awey. Now wol I speke of othes false and grete A word or two, as olde bookes trete. Gret sweryng is a thyng abhominable, And fals sweryng is yet moore reprevable. The heighe God forbad sweryng at al, Witnesse on Mathew; but in special Of sweryng seith the hooly Jeremye, "Thou shalt seye sooth thyne othes, and nat lye, And swere in doom, and eek in rightwisnesse"; But ydel sweryng is a cursednesse. Bihoold and se, that in the firste table Of heighe Goddes heestes honurable How that the seconde heeste of hym is this: "Take nat my name in ydel or amys." Lo, rather he forbedeth swich sweryng Than homycide, or any cursed thyng; I seye, that as by ordre thus it stondeth, This knowen that hise heestes understondeth How that the seconde heeste of God is that. And forther-over I wol thee telle al plat, That vengeance shal nat parten from his hous That of hise othes is to outrageous. "By Goddes precious herte," and "by his nayles," And "By the blood of Crist that is in Hayles, Sevene is my chaunce and thyn is cynk and treye!" "By Goddes armes, if thou falsly pleye, This daggere shal thurghout thyn herte go!" This fruyt cometh of the bicched bones two, Forsweryng, ire, falsnesse, homycide! Now, for the love of Crist, that for us dyde, Lete youre othes bothe grete and smale. But, sires, now wol I telle forth my tale. Thise riotoures thre, of whiche I telle, Longe erst er prime rong of any belle, Were set hem in a taverne for to drynke. And as they sat, they herde a belle clynke Biforn a cors, was caried to his grave. That oon of hem gan callen to his knave, "Go bet," quod he, "and axe redily What cors is this, that passeth heer forby; And looke, that thou reporte his name weel." "Sire," quod this boy, "it nedeth never a deel; It was me toold, er ye cam heer two houres. He was, pardee, an old felawe of youres; And sodeynly he was yslayn to-nyght, Fordronke, as he sat on his bench upright. Ther cam a privee theef men clepeth Deeth, That in this contree al the peple sleeth, And with his spere he smoot his herte atwo, And wente his wey withouten wordes mo. He hath a thousand slayn this pestilence. And, maister, er ye come in his presence, Me thynketh that it were necessarie For to be war of swich an adversarie. Beth redy for to meete hym everemoore; Thus taughte me my dame, I sey namoore." "By Seinte Marie!" seyde this taverner, "The child seith sooth, for he hath slayn this yeer Henne over a mile, withinne a greet village Bothe man and womman, child, and hyne, and page. I trowe his habitacioun be there. To been avysed, greet wysdom it were, Er that he dide a man a dishonour." "Ye, Goddes armes!" quod this riotour, "Is it swich peril with hym for to meete? I shal hym seke, by wey and eek by strete, I make avow to Goddes digne bones! Herkneth, felawes, we thre been al ones; Lat ech of us holde up his hand til oother, And ech of us bicomen otheres brother, And we wol sleen this false traytour Deeth. He shal be slayn, which that so manye sleeth, By Goddes dignitee, er it be nyght!" Togidres han thise thre hir trouthes plight To lyve and dyen, ech of hem for oother, As though he were his owene ybore brother; And up they stirte al dronken in this rage, And forth they goon towardes that village, Of which the taverner hadde spoke biforn. And many a grisly ooth thanne han they sworn, And Cristes blessed body they torente - Deeth shal be deed, if that they may hym hente! Whan they han goon nat fully half a mile, Right as they wolde han troden over a stile, An oold man and a povre with hem mette. This olde man ful mekely hem grette, And seyde thus, "Now, lordes, God yow see!" The proudeste of thise riotoures three Answerde agayn, "What, carl, with sory grace, Why artow al forwrapped save thy face? Why lyvestow so longe in so greet age?" This olde man gan looke in his visage, And seyde thus: "For I ne kan nat fynde A man, though that I walked into Ynde, Neither in citee nor in no village, That wolde chaunge his youthe for myn age; And therfore mooth I han myn age stille, As longe tyme as it is Goddes wille. Ne Deeth, allas, ne wol nat han my lyf. Thus walke I lyk a restelees kaityf, And on the ground, which is my moodres gate, I knokke with my staf bothe erly and late, And seye, "Leeve mooder, leet me in! Lo, how I vanysshe, flessh and blood and skyn! Allas, whan shul my bones been at reste? Mooder, with yow wolde I chaunge my cheste, That in my chambre longe tyme hath be, Ye, for an heyre-clowt to wrappe me." But yet to me she wol nat do that grace, For which ful pale and welked is my face. But, sires, to yow it is no curteisye To speken to an old man vileynye, But he trespasse in word, or elles in dede. In Hooly Writ ye may yourself wel rede, 'Agayns an oold man, hoor upon his heed, Ye sholde arise;' wherfore I yeve yow reed, Ne dooth unto an oold man noon harm now, Namoore than that ye wolde men did to yow In age, if that ye so longe abyde. And God be with yow where ye go or ryde. I moote go thider, as I have to go." "Nay, olde cherl, by God, thou shalt nat so," Seyde this oother hasardour anon; "Thou partest nat so lightly, by Seint John! Thou spak right now of thilke traytour Deeth, That in this contree alle oure freendes sleeth. Have heer my trouthe, as thou art his espye, Telle where he is, or thou shalt it abye, By God and by the hooly sacrament! For soothly thou art oon of his assent To sleen us yonge folk, thou false theef?" "Now, sires," quod he, "if that ye be so leef To fynde Deeth, turne up this croked wey, For in that grove I lafte hym, by my fey, Under a tree, and there he wole abyde; Noght for your boost he wole him no thyng hyde. Se ye that ook? Right ther ye shal hym fynde. God save yow that boghte agayn mankynde, And yow amende!" Thus seyde this olde man; And everich of thise riotoures ran Til he cam to that tree, and ther they founde Of floryns fyne of gold ycoyned rounde Wel ny an eighte busshels, as hem thoughte. No lenger thanne after Deeth they soughte, But ech of hem so glad was of that sighte, For that the floryns been so faire and brighte, That doun they sette hem by this precious hoord. The worste of hem, he spak the firste word. "Bretheren," quod he, "taak kepe what I seye; My wit is greet, though that I bourde and pleye. This tresor hath Fortune unto us yeven, In myrthe and joliftee oure lyf to lyven, And lightly as it comth, so wol we spende. Ey, Goddes precious dignitee! Who wende To-day that we sholde han so fair a grace? But myghte this gold be caried fro this place Hoom to myn hous or elles unto youres - For wel ye woot that al this gold is oures - Thanne were we in heigh felicitee. But trewely, by daye it may nat bee; Men wolde seyn that we were theves stronge, And for oure owene tresor doon us honge. This tresor moste ycaried be by nyghte As wisely and as slyly as it myghte. Wherfore I rede that cut among us alle Be drawe, and lat se wher the cut wol falle, And he that hath the cut, with herte blithe Shal renne to the towne, and that ful seithe, And brynge us breed and wyn, ful prively; And two of us shul kepen subtilly This tresor wel, and if he wol nat tarie, Whan it is nyght, we wol this tresor carie, By oon assent, where as us thynketh best." That oon of hem the cut broghte in his fest, And bad hym drawe, and looke where it wol falle; And it fil on the yongeste of hem alle, And forth toward the toun he wente anon. And al so soone, as that he was agon, That oon of hem spak thus unto that oother, "Thou knowest wel thou art my sworen brother; Thy profit wol I telle thee anon. Thou woost wel, that oure felawe is agon, And heere is gold, and that ful greet plentee, That shal departed been among us thre. But nathelees, if I kan shape it so That it departed were among us two, Hadde I nat doon a freendes torn to thee?" That oother answerde, "I noot hou that may be; He woot how that the gold is with us tweye; What shal we doon? What shal we to hym seye?" "Shal it be conseil?" seyde the firste shrewe, "And I shal tellen, in a wordes fewe, What we shal doon, and bryngen it wel aboute." "I graunte," quod that oother, "out of doute, That by my trouthe I shal thee nat biwreye." "Now," quod the firste, "thou woost wel we be tweye, And two of us shul strenger be than oon. Looke whan that he is set, that right anoon Arys, as though thou woldest with hym pleye, And I shal ryve hym thurgh the sydes tweye, Whil that thou strogelest with hym as in game, And with thy daggere looke thou do the same; And thanne shal al this gold departed be, My deere freend, bitwixen me and thee. Thanne may we bothe oure lustes all fulfille, And pleye at dees right at oure owene wille." And thus acorded been thise shrewes tweye To sleen the thridde, as ye han herd me seye. This yongeste, which that wente unto the toun, Ful ofte in herte he rolleth up and doun The beautee of thise floryns newe and brighte. "O lorde," quod he, "if so were that I myghte Have al this tresor to my-self allone, Ther is no man that lyveth under the trone Of God, that sholde lyve so murye as I." And atte laste the feend, oure enemy, Putte in his thought that he sholde poyson beye, With which he myghte sleen hise felawes tweye; For-why, the feend foond hym in swich lyvynge That he hadde leve hem to sorwe brynge. For this was outrely his fulle entente, To sleen hem bothe, and nevere to repente. And forth he gooth, no lenger wolde he tarie, Into the toun unto a pothecarie And preyde hym that he hym wolde selle Som poysoun, that he myghte hise rattes quelle; And eek ther was a polcat in his hawe, That, as he seyde, hise capouns hadde yslawe; And fayn he wolde wreke hym, if he myghte, On vermyn that destroyed hym by nyghte. The pothecarie answerde, "And thou shalt have A thyng, that al so God my soule save, In al this world ther is no creature That eten or dronken hath of this confiture Noght but the montance of a corn of whete, That he ne shal his lif anon forlete; Ye, sterve he shal, and that in lasse while Than thou wolt goon a paas nat but a mile, This poysoun is so strong and violent." This cursed man hath in his hond yhent This poysoun in a box, and sith he ran Into the nexte strete unto a man, And borwed of hym large botels thre; And in the two his poyson poured he; The thridde he kepte clene for his owene drynke. For al the nyght he shoop hym for to swynke In cariynge of the gold out of that place. And whan this riotour, with sory grace, Hadde filed with wyn his grete botels thre, To hise felawes agayn repaireth he. What nedeth it to sermone of it moore? For right as they hadde cast his deeth bifoore, Right so they han him slayn, and that anon. And whan that this was doon, thus spak that oon: "Now lat us sitte and drynke, and make us merie, And afterward we wol his body berie." And with that word it happed hym, par cas, To take the botel ther the poysoun was, And drank, and yaf his felawe drynke also, For which anon they storven bothe two. But certes, I suppose that Avycen Wroot nevere in no canoun, ne in no fen, Mo wonder signes of empoisonyng Than hadde thise wrecches two, er hir endyng. Thus ended been thise homycides two, And eek the false empoysoner also. O cursed synne ful of cursednesse! O traytours homycide, O wikkednesse! O glotonye, luxurie, and hasardrye! Thou blasphemour of Crist, with vileynye And othes grete, of usage and of pride, Allas, mankynde, how may it bitide That to thy Creatour which that the wroghte, And with His precious herte-blood thee boghte, Thou art so fals and so unkynde, allas! Now, goode men, God foryeve yow youre trespas, And ware yow fro the synne of avarice; Myn hooly pardoun may yow alle warice, So that ye offre nobles or sterlynges, Or elles silver broches, spoones, rynges; Boweth youre heed under this hooly bulle! Com up, ye wyves, offreth of youre wolle! Youre names I entre heer in my rolle anon, Into the blisse of hevene shul ye gon. I yow assoille by myn heigh power, Yow that wol offre, as clene and eek as cleer As ye were born. - And lo, sires, thus I preche. And Jesu Crist, that is oure soules leche, So graunte yow his pardoun to receyve, For that is best, I wol yow nat deceyve. But sires, o word forgat I in my tale: I have relikes and pardoun in my male, As faire as any man in Engelond, Whiche were me yeven by the popes hond. If any of yow wole of devocioun Offren, and han myn absolucioun, Com forth anon, and kneleth heere adoun, And mekely receyveth my pardoun; Or elles taketh pardoun as ye wende, Al newe and fressh at every miles ende, So that ye offren alwey, newe and newe, Nobles or pens, whiche that be goode and trewe. It is an honour to everich that is heer That ye mowe have a suffisant pardoneer T'assoille yow in contree as ye ryde, For aventures whiche that may bityde. Paraventure ther may fallen oon or two Doun of his hors, and breke his nekke atwo. Look, which a seuretee is it to yow alle That I am in youre felaweship yfalle, That may assoille yow, bothe moore and lasse, Whan that the soule shal fro the body passe. I rede that oure Hoost heere shal bigynne, For he is moost envoluped in synne. Com forth, sire Hoost, and offre first anon, And thou shalt kisse my relikes everychon, Ye, for a grote! unbokele anon thy purs.' "Nay, nay," quod he, "thanne have I Cristes curs! Lat be," quod he, "it shal nat be, so theech, Thou woldest make me kisse thyn olde breech, And swere it were a relyk of a seint, Though it were with thy fundement depeint. But by the croys which that Seint Eleyne fond, I wolde I hadde thy coillons in myn hond In stide of relikes or of seintuarie. Lat kutte hem of, I wol thee helpe hem carie; They shul be shryned in an hogges toord." This Pardoner answerde nat a word; So wrooth he was, no word ne wolde he seye. "Now," quod oure Hoost, "I wol no lenger pleye With thee, ne with noon oother angry man." But right anon the worthy Knyght bigan, Whan that he saugh that al the peple lough, "Namoore of this, for it is right ynough. Sir Pardoner, be glad and myrie of cheere; And ye, sir Hoost, that been to me so deere, I prey yow, that ye kisse the pardoner; And Pardoner, I prey thee, drawe thee neer, And, as we diden lat us laughe and pley." Anon they kiste, and ryden forth hir weye.

Heere is ended the Pardoners Tale.

The Pardoner's Prologue | The Shipman's Tale


Unpardonable Hypocrisy

In "The Pardoner's Tale," the Pardoner, a papally approved absolver of sins, relates his story to the other Canterbury bound pilgrims while preaching "Radix malorum est cupiditas." Filled to the brim with hypocrisy and self righteousness, the sliminess of the Pardoner's character is revealed in both the General Prologue and during his own tale.

In the General Prologue, several traits of the Pardoner, who described by the Hoste, already indicate his two outstanding qualities: avarice and hypocrisy. Physically, the Pardoner appears to be an unkempt man. His messy, yellow hair is massed into strands spanning down his shoulders. "Dischevelee save his cappe he rood al bare," notes the Hoste of the Pardoner's hair. His negligence for his self appearance connects to his negligence of other people's concerns. The only two clean qualities the Hoste sees in the Pardoner's appearance are his cap and his rood. Sewed onto the cap is a vernicle and his rood is "of al the newe jet," or all the new fashion. These two articles stand out not only because they are clean, but also because they are both religious and costly. It fits well that the Pardoner, a man that blurs the line between religion and money, has attire that so accurately matches his personality.

Much more of the Pardoner's hypocrisy and self righteousness is revealed during his tale. One of the first things he tells his fellow travelers about is the theme of his sermons. "Radix malorum est cupiditas," he claims just before explaining how he dupes the listeners into buying phony relics and blessings. This is why the Pardoner doesn't fit into the stereotypical role of the self-righteous money grubbing hypocrite. Whereas the stereotype character would either be decisively ignorant of his underhanded practices or try to justify them in some twisted way, the Pardoner not only openly confesses his hypocrisy, but proudly embraces it. His corrupt practices are deliberately honed and applied in the most devious ways. Obtaining money is his sole objective. One example is instead of giving his sermons in traditional Latin, he expressively uses widely understood English to reach into the pockets of more people. Another example would be when he says, "For myn entente is nat but for to winne/ And no thing for correccion of sinne" (Approximately "For my intention is only to win, and has nothing to do with the correction of sin").

In addition, his stories are full of moral value and meaning; by the actual tale of the three rioters and their hunt for death, he shows off that he is more than talented in making people dish out the cash. Despite these examples showing his severe hypocrisy and self righteousness, the fact that he knows what he's doing is wrong and he confesses it almost brings a redeeming quality to his character.

However, the epilogue of his tale drives home his arrogance and foul nature. In spite of all the warnings and admissions of his wrong doings, he goes ahead and blatantly tries to pull his villainous pranks on the pilgrims, and in particular, the Hoste, by begging them to buy insincere pardons and blessings from phony relics. As if to crush any thought that perhaps the Pardoner might have a streak of morality in him, he insults his listeners with this final unbelievably disdainful and hypocritical crime.

In conclusion, the Pardoner's scheming ways are developed in the General Prologue and during his tale. Full of avarice, pride, and hypocrisy, he is a detestable charter despite his intelligence and awareness of his evils. However, Chaucer as the Hoste, wishing to set an example by not sinking as low as his filthy character, kisses and makes up with him. Perhaps this is a further religious suggestion that no one, despite their faults, is beyond forgiveness.

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