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362 Study Questions for Chaucer's "Pardoner's Tale"

Vocabulary: Donatist heresy, indulgence, pardon, pardoner

Useful Middle English terms: rioter, stile

Introduction: What does the introductory suggest is the possible reason Chaucer chooses to discuss the Pardoner and Summoner last in the General Prologue? What job does a Summoner have in medieval times? What is the job of a Pardoner? What is an exemplum?

Lecture or Handouts: What is the distinction Middle English speakers make between "thou" and "you" or "ye" when using second person pronouns? How is that pertinent in figuring out the Host's tone when he talks to the Pardoner? What medieval doctrine do lines 185-187 refer to and how does it connect with Saint Augustine's idea about God's relationship to time? How is the list of sins the Pardoner refers to a condemnation of other pilgrims in the pilgrimage? What are some hypotheses scholars have advanced regarding the identity of the Old mano

Identify the following characters:

(From the Frame narrative): The Host (Harry Bailey), The Pardoner, the Knight,
(From "The Pardoner's Tale"): the three rioters, the Old Man

Reading Questions:

(From the Pardoner's Prologue):

  • Why is the Host so upset at the opening of the Pardoner's Tale? What has angered and saddened him?
  • In lines sixteen through nineteen, what objects does Harry Bailey pray God to bless?
  • Harry says his "herte" will be lost unless he has any one of three possible remedies to his sadness. What are those three possible remedies?
  • Who does the Host ask to tell the next tale? Read this line carefully. What pronoun (thou or you) does the Host use to refer to that pilgrim?
  • What does he call him?
  • What does the Pardoner say is always the "theme" (main point) of his sermons? Why is that suitable or appropriate to his purposes?
  • What are some the Pardoner's money-making tricks?

(From "The Pardoner's Tale" itself):

  • What is the setting of the tale?
  • What is a rioter in Middle English?
  • List the sins the Pardoner condemns in the opening of his sermon and the historical or biblical figures he uses as examples
  • When the Pardoner leaves his examples behind and turns to the rioters again in line 373, he mentions their drinking habits. At what time of the day do these guys show up at the tavern to drink?
  • What event disturbs them this morning as they try and drink?
  • What does the knave-boy reveal to them when they ask him to find out what's going on?
  • Who killed the rioter's friend?
  • What agreement or pact do the three rioters make with each other?
  • The rioters encounter an old man at a stile. What is a stile?
  • What is the old man's appearance like?
  • What does the old man seek as he travels endlessly from place to place?
  • Where does the old man tell the rioters he last saw Death?
  • What do the rioters find when they hunt there?
  • Explain how the rioters end up dying.
  • How does this creepy sermon serve the Pardoner's own greedy purposes if his audience "buys" his argument about greed being evil?.

(From "The Epilogue"):

  • How does the Pardoner's conclusion turn his sermon into a "pitch"?
  • Whom does the Pardoner claim needs a pardon worst of all?
  • Why does Harry Bailey (the Host) explode in anger at the Pardoner's words? Explain the possible sexual insult implied when the Pardoner calls for the Host to kneel before him, unbuckle his "purse," and "kiss the relics."
  • What threat of physical violence does Harry make toward the Pardoner?
  • Who interrupts the fight between Harry and the Pardoner? Why is this an appropriate or inappropriate character to do this?
  • What does the Knight require Harry to do as a visible sign of forgiveness? Do you think the Knight is treating this as "the Christian kiss of peace?" Or do you think he is doing this to humiliate Harry and put him in his place? Why?


A."Thou bel ami, thou Pardoner," he saide,
"Tel us som mirthe or japes right anoon."

And right anoon thise gentils gan to crye,
"Nay, lat him telle us of no ribaudye.
Tel us som moral thing that we may lere,
Som wit, and thanne wol we gladly heere."

B. Lordings--quod he--in chirches whan I preche,
I paine me to han an hautein speeche,
And ringe it out as round as gooth a belle,
For I can al by rote that I telle.
My theme is alway oon, and ever was,
Radix malorum est cupiditas.

C. But herkneth, lordinges, in conclusioun,
Youre liking is that I shal telle a tale:
Now have I dronke a draughte of corny ale,
By God, I hope I shal you telle a thing
That shal by reson been at youre liking;
For though myself be a ful vicious man,
A moral tale yit I you telle can,
Which I am wont to preche for to winne.
Now holde youre pees, my tale I wol biginne.

D. In Flandres whilom was a compaignye
Of yonge folk that haunteden folye--
As riot, hasard, stewes, and tavernes,
Wher as with harpes, lutes, and giternes
They daunce and playen at dees bothe day and night,
Ad ete also and drinke over hir mighte. . . .

E. "I you assoile by myn height power--
Ye that wol offre--as clene and eek as cleer
As ye were born.--And lo, sires, thus I preche
And Jesu that is oure soules leeche
So graunte you his pardon to receive,
For that is best--I wold you nat deceive.

F. I rede that oure Hoste shal biginne,
For he is most evoluped in sinne.
Com forth, sire Host, and offre first anoon,
And thou shalt kisse the relikes everichoon,
Ye, for a grote: unbokele anoon thy purse.

G. "I wolde I hadde thy coilons in myn hond,
In stede of relikes or of saintuarye..
Lat cutte hem of: I wol thee helpe hem carye.
They shal be shrined in an hogges tord. . . .

"Now. . . I wol no lenger playe
With thee, ne with noon other angry man.:

H. But right anoon, the worthy Knight bigan,
Whan that he sawgh that al the peple lough,
"Namore of this, for it is right ynough.
Sir Pardoner, be glad and merye of cheere,
And ye, Sire Host that been to me so dere,
I praye you that ye kisse the Pardoner,
And Pardoner, I praye thee, draw thee neer,
And as we diden lat us laughe and playe."
Anoon they kiste and riden forth hir waye."


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