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Irony in "The Pardoner's Tale"

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Irony in "The Pardoner's Tale"

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  • March 2006
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Many tales are told in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Probably the greatest on is "The Pardoner's Tale". A greedy Pardoner who preaches to feed his own desires tells "The Pardoner's Tale". This story contains excellent examples of verbal, situational, and dramatic irony.

Verbal irony occurs when a writer or speaker says one thing but really means something quite different. One example of this type of irony is found in lines 216-217: " ‘Trust me,' the other said, ‘you needn't doubt my word. I wont betray you. I'll be true.'" The rioter is telling the second that he would never betray his friends, yet he is plotting to kill the youngest rioter, whom he promised to defend and treat like a brother earlier on in the tale. Another example occurs when the youngest tells the apothecary that he has a lot of rats he wants to kill. A rat, in the literal meaning of the word, is a furry little creature that humans tend to despise. However, the rats spoken about here by the youngest rioter are his two comrades who are back in the woods, lusting over the gold.

Situational irony occurs when what actually happens is the opposite of what is expected or appropriate. An instance where situational irony occurs is in the prologue where the Pardoner states that he preaches that the root of all evil is avarice. The only reason he preaches is to convince people to buy his pardons and holy relics so he can satisfy his own selfish desires. We would not expect a preacher to preach against his own vice. Another example occurs after the Pardoner finishes his tale. He attempts to sell his pardons to the travelers, starting with the Host, claiming, "He is most-enveloped in all sin." The irony here is that the Pardoner himself is probably the most sinful of the all the travelers.

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience is aware of something that one or more characters do not know or understand. Two of the most recognized examples of dramatic occur throughout most of the...

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