Geoffrey Chaucer was an English writer and poet. His works were so acclaimed that he was given the title “father of English poetry” or “father of English literature.” This week in class, I read one of Chaucer’s most popular and praised works: The Canterbury Tales. In this essay, I am going to talk about one of the stories I read this week called “The Pardoner’s Tale.”
The story started with a man who was pretending to be a pardoner (a person who pardons the sins of people). He was a con man trying to separate people from their money. One night, the pardoner was carrying a dead body to its grave and three drunks from a nearby pub spotted him. They asked the pardoner what happened to the dead man. The pardoner spun a long and intricate story about how death came and stole the man’s life.
The three drunks decided to swear an oath to find and kill death and to protect each other like brothers. When the three drunks set off for their journey, they run into an elderly man. This man had a hood over his head, obscuring his face from the view of the three drunks. The man told the drunks that death had refused to take him, which led the drunks to believe that the man knew where death was. They demanded to know the location of death, and the old man told them to an oak tree.
When the three of them reached the oak, they found bundles of money under the tree. When they saw this money, they decided to stop at the oak and go no further in their adventure, breaking the oath they made. Once they made themselves comfortable, they pulled lots to see who should go into town and steal bread and wine. The youngest of the three was sent into town, but while he was away, the other two plotted a way to kill him so they could split the money two ways instead of three. Meanwhile, the youngest man was planning to poison the other two men so we could get all the gold for himself. This is them breaking the second part of their oath, which was to protect each other like brothers.
In the end, all three died and no one got the money.
It seemed that the point of the story was Chaucer trying to show how foolish the practice of pardoners was.
One thing to note, was how random the sudden appearance of the elderly man was. I have noticed that in stories written during Chaucer’s time (12th and 13th century), that authors would add insignificant characters only to move the story along.
However, the elderly man did not seem like one of these insignificant characters. A theory, is that the man was death, hence his hooded face and his comment on how “death will not take him.” Perhaps death will not take him because he is death.
With the Pardoner’s Tale, Chaucer may have been trying to prove a point, but I feel that it may have gotten lost in how long the story was. It was an entertaining story to read, but I had more fun trying to figure out who the old man was than trying to understand the meaning of the story.
Thanks for reading!