“The Pardoner’s Tale:”
A Sermon of Morality and Corruption
The art of persuasion proves to be an important aspect within “The Canterbury Tales” because it is this art that a pilgrim needs to exemplify in order to be deemed the best storyteller. Not only is this art the driving force behind the overarching plot of the poem but it is also an essential facet for characters within the tales so they are able to provide a complex and thought-provoking story. Understanding that the storytellers are on a religious pilgrimage, one of the most common ways this art is portrayed is through the use of biblical references. This portrayal is especially prevalent in understanding the plot and themes of “The Pardoner’s Tale.” To explain, the biblical stories in “The Pardoner’s Tale” are used in two-fold: the Pardoner uses biblical stories to make his sermon more persuasive to the other pilgrims, while Chaucer uses the actions of the Pardoner in juxtaposition with biblical stories to portray a criticism of Medieval culture to his readers. Through analysis of this two-part structure, I will first examine Pardoner’s use of the biblical story of Adam and Eve’s banishment from Paradise in regard to the rhetorical strategies of ethos, logos, and pathos. I will then examine Chaucer’s criticism of the Medieval Church through analysis of the Pardoner’s motivations behind giving his sermon in juxtaposition with the biblical reference.
To begin, appeals to ethos are used during the Adam and Eve passage, and for all the other biblical stories throughout the sermon. It is evoked first and foremost because the Pardoner is a member of the clergy and therefore an authority figure on the Bible. The Pardoner is also especially qualified on speaking about “O cause first of oure confusioun!” because his job as a pardoner is to sell pardons, so he must be very knowledgeable on downfalls and sins of men (line 211). Furthermore, the Pardoner is portrayed as even more of an authority figure...
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