The Pardoner

It's believed that Geoffrey Chaucer started writing 'The Canterbury Tales'  in 1386. This would then be a year after his having written 'Troilus and Criseide',  which was in fact an adaptation of Boccaccio's 'Il Filostrato' (The Love-Stricken). He must have been very much influenced by Renaissance Italy when he was sent there on a diplomatic mission in 1372.

The satirical 'Canterbury Tales' represent a precious, social study of Chaucer's era in England, a perceptive, observation of human nature, therefore full of ironic humour. They also remind us that despite man's ever increasing technological progress spanning across more than six centuries since then, human nature itself, at its best and worst, never seems to change.

The Pardoner's Tale might be an appropriate example to refer to in view of the present controversial, religious turmoil. At a time when unpardonable sins (wanton abuse thus destruction of young lives) have been systematically purchased (for silence) or when unpardonable sins are being systematically financed by religious fanatics and carried out (self sacrifice to incur indiscriminate murder and destruction) by those conditioned and persuaded that for their sins they will be rewarded with eternal Paradise. Perhaps it's even possible to perceive a terrible analogy between both cases.

The actual tale of the Pardoner is the timeless, classical plot of crime incited by greed, ending with the ironical but poetically just consequences. But his preamble is also amusing. He warns of the evil of drink, for example, referring to red and white wines. As he ambles on it's clear that he knows his wines, presumably from his own over indulgences (his warnings against the white wine of Lepe, and the heady, red wines of Spain).

The following is the Pardoner's Epilogue, complete with the final, fond reconciliation, in order for all the pilgrims to continue their pilgrimage together, even though they (in spite of Chaucer's original, far more ambitious plan) never get to Canterbury.

          'But sires, oo word forgat I in my tale:
           I have relikes and pardon in my male°
           As faire as any man in Engelond,
           Whiche were me yiven by the Popes hond.
           If any of you wol of devocioun,
          Offren and han myn absolucioun,
          Come forth anoon, and kneeleth here adown,

          And mekely receiveth my pardoun,
          Or elles taketh pardon as ye wende,°
                           (ride along)
          Al newe and fressh at every miles ende-
          So that ye offre alway newe and newe
          Nobles or pens whiche that be goode and trewe.

          It is an honour to everich° that is heer                        (everyone)
          That ye have a suffisant° pardoner                             (competent)
          T'assoile you in contrees as ye ride
          For aventures° whiche that may bitide:
          Paraventure ther may falle oon or two
          Down of his hors and breke his nekke atwo;
          Looke which a suretee° is it you alle                           
          That I am in youre felaweshipe yfalle
          That may assoile you, bothe more and lasse,
          Whan that the soule shal fro the body passe.

          I rede° that oure Hoste shal biginne,                          (advise)
          For he is most envoluped° in sinne.                              (involved)
          Com forth, sire Host, and offre first anoon,
          And thou shalt kisse the relikes everichoon,° 
            (each one)
          Ye, for a grote: unbokele° anoon thy purs."              (unbuckle)
          "Nay, nay," quod he, "thanne have I Cristes curs!
           Lat be," quod he, "it shal nat be, so theeche!°  
         (may I prosper)
           Thou woldest make me kisses thyn olde breech°       (breeches)
           And swere it were a relik of a saint,
           Though it were with thy fundament° depeint.° 
           But, by the crois which that Sainte Elaine foond, 
           I wolde I hadde they coilons° in myn hond,                 (testicles)
           In stede of relikes or of saintuarye.°                             (relic-box)
           Lat cutte them of: I wol thee helpe hem carye.
           They shal be shrined in an hogges tord."°
           This Pardoner answerde nat a word:
           So wroth he was no word ne wolde he saye.
           "Now," quod oure Host, "I wol no lenger playe
           With thee, ne with noon other angry man."
           But right anoon the worthy Knight bigan,
           Whan that he sawgh that al the peple lough,° 
           "Namore of this, for it is right ynough,
           Sire Pardoner, be glad and merye of cheere,
           And ye, sire Host that been to me so dere,
            I praye you that ye kisse the Pardoner,
           And Pardoner, I praye thee, draw thee neer,
           And as we diden lat us laughe and playe."
           Annon they kiste and riden forth hir waye.


Text by Mirino. Source including 'The Pardoner's Epilogue' from the Norton Anthology 
               of English Literature- volume 1 (with grateful thanks). July, 2010