Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer: Entertaining Stories and Enduring Characters

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The premise of the poem, Canterbury Tales, written in iambic pentameter, allows Geoffrey Chaucer not only the chance to tell a number of very entertaining stories, but, more importantly, an opportunity to create a cast of enduring characters, still recognisable after six centuries. One of these is the ‘Pardoner’ who proves to be an intriguing character. The passage begins with the words, ‘But let me make my purpose plain; I preach for nothing but greed of gain’. (p.243) These lines, in effect, sum up the Pardoner’s character. The main literary device Chaucer uses in his characterisation of the Pardoner is irony. The topic of the Pardoner’s sermons is ‘radix malorum est cupiditas ’(p) love of money is the root of all evil. The irony lies in the fact that his entire way of life is centred around his love of money. He openly admits this irony, ‘And thus I preach against the very vice, I make my living out of – avarice.’ In addition, his lack of empathy with his fellow man verges on the sociopathic. He has no conscience when it comes to taking money from the ‘poorest lad’ or the ‘poorest village widow’ with her ‘string of starving children.’ Chaucer also shows the Pardoner’s complete lack of respect for these people. When delivering his sermons he uses stories from the past because ‘a yokel mind loves stories from of old, Being the kind it can repeat and hold.’ 244. Chaucer begins his description of the Pardoner in the General Prologue, where he uses the physical characteristics of the travellers to set them in the reader’s mind before he has them tell their tales. These descriptions give an insight into Chaucer’s attitude towards the Pardoner, and we find it unsympathetic to say the least. He uses similes to describe the ‘driblets’ of his flaxen hair as ‘like rat-tails’ and his ‘bulging eye-balls, like a hare’, and a metaphor to imply his characteristic sexual connotation, ‘I judge he was a gelding, or a mare.’ This assessment is contradicted in the...
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