The Pardoner's Tale l.480-517: Money

Synopsis of l. 480-517: Money

TreasureThe three rioters follow the Old Man's directions and find a huge heap of gold. They immediately forget about seeking out Death and sit down to enjoy the sight of unimaginable wealth. They decide to spend the money but realise people may assume it is stolen. They agree the treasure must be hidden that night, then draw lots to decide who will get some food and wine to sustain them until then. This task fall to the youngest.

Commentary on l. 480-517: Money

l.480 ran: Chaucer highlights the irony that the three youths are so eager to find Death

l.481 tree: the term ‘tree' was often used in medieval teaching to refer to the cross on which Jesus died in order to rescue humanity (1 Peter 2:24) and might also remind believers of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, which Adam and Eve were commanded not to eat (Genesis 2:17)

l.482 florins: gold coins worth a third of a pound (a significant amount in the Middle Ages)

l.483 busshels: bushels. A bushel was a unit of measurement, equal to 36.6 litres or eight gallons

l.490 wit: intelligence, understanding. It is worth questioning exactly how clever he is really being

l.491 Fortune: Chaucer's audience were familiar with the image of Fortune personified  as a woman spinning a wheel

l.495 grace: ‘gift'. Here the association is secular, a ‘real piece of luck'. However, the word grace had strong religious connotations too, acting as a counterpoint to the attitudes of the youths

l.513 us thinketh: it seems to us

l.514-16 The draw is likely to be that of having even lengths of straw concealed within someone's hand, plus one shorter one. Whoever ‘draws the short straw' is selected for the following activity:

  • Chaucer has begun to give different roles and characters to the rioters: the oldest seems the biggest plotter, since he is already angling to take the treasure to his house. It is perhaps ironic that he complains people will assume he is a thief in l.501! Chaucer's description (514) of him already having the straws in his fist suggests the others haven't seen him put them there, but that he knows which is the short straw
  • Contemporary Christians might recognise that there are strong echoes in these lines of John 19:17-34, where John describes the death of Christ on the cross and the drawing of lots for possession of his coat. The circumstances are repeated here: death on the one hand and concern for material possessions on the other, although in a quite different context.

Chaucer's writing

  • Chaucer engages the reader's superior alertness here: 
    • The rioters seem not to notice that they find money where they have been told they will find Death
    • We can stand back and see the equation. 
  • The first reaction to the gold comes in a speech from the ‘worste' of them (488) and it contains many words that prefigure verbally the theme of deception that will follow once their plots are hatched.

Investigating l. 480-517: Money 

  • l.481-7 How do you read the fact that the place where Death is said to be is a place where money is? 
    • How many different implications could you find in this?
  • Which words in l.494-5 bring into the tale an alternative outlook to the ungodly one of the rioters?
  • What elements of Chaucer's writing help speed up the narrative from l. 491 onwards?
    • What effect do you think this has?
  • Pick out the words and phrases in l.500-12 by which Chaucer is introducing a hint of deception already
  • What would we lose from the recent, swift part of the narrative if we had not experienced the slower, elaborate first part of The Pardoner's Tale with its sections on gluttony, gambling and oaths?
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