Consider the Significance of Death in the Pardoner's Tale

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Consider the significance of death in the Pardoners tale.

When Chaucer was writing the Canterbury Tales in the 14th century the Black Death had killed approximately one quarter to one third of the European population within 2 years; even without the plague the average persons’ life expectancy was 28 years. Literature at the time, even books my medics believed that God was the giver and taker of life, Therefore the relieving of sin by a priest in the 14th century is similar to the relieving of pain by a doctor today. In essence only God could begin and end their lives or so it was thought; wounds and diseases were metaphors for sins. It is no wonder that society relied on God and the church because they were constantly reminded that they could die at any time and more importantly their sins were seen as a measure of their behaviour. Let’s make the point clear: in the 14th century your health was a result of your conduct; if you lived a God fearing chastened life then you had nothing to fear, the church preached, however if you fell into the bottomless pit of the temptation of the seven deadly sins then they must face the judgement that awaits you at death. The plague according to Bishop Edendon ‘is a fire which blazed as a result of Adam’s sin. . . . . . . producing a multitude of sins which have provoked the divine anger, by a just judgement, to His revenge.’ Here Edendon is preaching to the petrified that their sins are the cause of the plague, because they are so insurmountable, they have angered God; he has got revenge by giving sinners the cruel Black Death, beware you who sin, was the message, you are the maker of your own death. In the 19th Century some writers became fascinated with the Gothic genre about the ‘supernatutral’ and concepts of evil. The mood was always gloomy and shadowy. There was always a mysterious male character that dwelt in an eerie castle that is dark, full of strange shadows and is labyrinthine and confusing. The layout is designed to add to the tension and confusion. Within the narrative there are themes such as evil, science, deception, the supernatural, magic, curses, isolation and dreams. A good example of this is occurs in Shelley’s Frankenstein; he fell into a dream state that began with his kissing of Elizabeth; upon waking he finds himself staring into the face of the monster he has created. Chaucer did not see his world as gothic, like audiences see now. Good and evil and the supernatural were part of the medieval world; these elements were a part of his everyday world and culture. However Chaucer is a gothic author since The Pardoner’s Tale does contain elements of macabre. An example of this is the repellent descriptions of the destructive effects of committing sins. He sells bones and relics to the poor and in the tale itself there is a mysterious old man who contains supernatural qualities. The church, unlike today was big business; Priests ensured that the poor down trodden peasant never forget that it is God who decides when they die, moreover to be a sinner, when you die, was like sentencing yourself to hell. This is where the Catholic church saw the metaphorical ‘loop hole in the market’ and cynically sent an ‘ambassador’ to cleanse society of their sins, however the corruption of the Vatican was excessively exceeded, (impossible surely) by the role of The Pardoner, since his role is that of a priest; he can absolve sin and play on the guilt and gullibility of the uneducated, since their lack of education was a ‘blessing in disguise’ because they were open to the sinister manipulation of the church who, sadly, had one aim – to make money by selling relics believed to be those of Jesus Christ and the Apostles. It is interesting that Chaucer chose to describe the Pardoner as a morally corrupt figure that exemplifies the Church of Rome exactly. He is both macabre and gruesome which was associated with Gothic writers of the 18th century, also the Pardoner’s repulsive...
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