Passage in The Pardoner’s Prologue in The Canterbury Tales

Thus spit I out my venom, under hue
Of holiness, to seem holy and true.
But, shortly mine intent I will devise,
I preach of nothing but of covetise.
Therefore my theme is yet, and ever was,–
Radix malorum est cupiditas.
Thus can I preach against the same vice
Which that I use, and that is avarice.
But though myself be guilty in that sin,
yet can I maken other folk to twin* *depart
From avarice, and sore them repent.
But that is not my principal intent;
I preache nothing but for covetise.
Of this mattere it ought enough suffice.

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is very often acclaimed, in literary circles, as the greatest piece of poetry that celebrates the poet’s skill of characterization. It is significant to note that the masterpiece by Chaucer draws the characters from various life situations and assigns them with characteristic traits which make each character distinct from others and illustrate the features of numerous real-life individuals.


A rereading of the “Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale” in The Canterbury Tales establishes this important remark as it illustrates the life-like character of the Pardoner. In what may be termed a “literary confession,” similar to that of the “Wife of Bath’s Prologue,” the prologue exposes the character’s viciousness, notwithstanding his jovial deportment in the prologue. To some critics, the attempt of the prologue seems similar to the Pardoner’s attempt through his particular character, to be to “spit I out my venom, under hue/ Of holiness, to seem holy and true.” It is to mean that the Pardoner, as the prologue maintains, can be seen as the single lost soul in the group of pilgrims or as a better soul than many others in the group because he is at least not a hypocrite. In this way, the depiction of the Pardoner illustrates the poet’s realistic touch in the portrayal of his character.

The characterization of the Pardoner

It is paramount to note that the Pardoner, even though he exposes his character in the literary confession, is not regretful or ashamed at all for any of the vices he follows. “But, shortly mine intent I will devise,/ I preach of nothing but of covers./ Therefore my theme is yet, and ever was,–/ Radix Malorum est cupiditas.” Most notably, this interesting character tells the co-pilgrims, in an unregretful voice, the method of his deception of the masses with false relics while sermonizing against greed to encourage more bounteous contributions to his purse. As it is clear from the prologue, he does not intend to make them convert from the greedy life or “depart/ from avarice, and sore them repent.” The intention of such preaching is expected to be a moral transformation of the people; however, as he maintains, “that is not my principal intent;/ I preach nothing but for covers. / Of this matter it ought enough to suffice.”

We can gather from the General Prologue that the Pardoner has ample opportunity to amass huge profit through illegitimate practice in the sale of indulgence and mislead the people through the sermons which he performs for his purposes. The social dissatisfaction of the practice of the pardoners of the time is very skillfully illustrated by Chaucer through his masterly depiction of the Pardoner’s character and his unapologetic nature. The irony in the character of Pardoner, which proves the hypocrisy of action in his character, is remarkable through an analysis of Chaucer’s characterization. The characterization of the Pardoner, as evident in the “Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale,” proves this character to be one of the fully realized or drawn-out characters of Chaucer. The character of Pardoner, as illustrated in the prologue, cannot be regarded as a moral man. However, it just seems appropriate to append that the character does not have a moral system, either, to which he is to adhere.

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