The Pardoner's Tale - l.518-562: Two conspiracies

Synopsis of l. 518-562: Two conspiracies

Once the youngest has left, the other two youths decide that they will each get more if the money is only divided between two. They plot to stab the other youth on his return, under the guise of a friendly scuffle. Meanwhile, as the youngest walks towards the town, he starts to covet all the money for himself, so decides to kill the other two youths by poisoning them. Much of the pace of the passage is created by the intense direct speech of the protagonists

Commentary on l. 518-562: Two conspiracies

l.524 departed: divided

l.527 torn: turn

l.528 noot: I don't know

l.529 woot: knows

l.531 conseil: counsel, but here used for a shared secret
        shrewe: rogue, criminal

l.534 I graunte … out of doute: I agree… no doubts about it

l.540 rive: cut

l.549 which that: who

l.545 our lustes al fulfille: the focus of fulfilling personal worldly desires would be seen as sinful by Chaucer's audience. See Religious / philosophical context > Medieval attitudes to poverty and wealth

l.554-5 no man … God: ‘nobody in the world'. According to Christianity, everybody on earth is subject to the rule of the God who created the world

l.556 The feend our enemy: the Devil or Satan, who the Bible states is the enemy of God and therefore of the human race he has created. The devil has so corrupted the youngest rioter that he decides to kill both his colleagues and never to repent:

  • According to the Bible, even a murderer may turn back to God and be forgiven. In deciding not to repent, the youth puts himself beyond the chance of being saved when facing judgement.

l.559-60 ‘Because the devil found him in such a way of life that he had permission [i.e. from God] to bring him to everlasting sorrow.' Chaucer's audience would recognise an echo of Job 2:1-6, an Old Testament image of how God allowed the devil to test / prove the virtue of believers. 

Here, the suggestion is that the rioter is so decided on his sinful plan that there is no opportunity for God to reach him to change his mind. As a consequence, there is nothing to stop the malign influence of the devil. The church taught that humans have free will and may therefore decide whether to love and obey God or not.


Investigating l.518-562: Two conspiracies 

  • my sworen brother: what is the effect, in the context of the rioters' dialogue, of this phrase in l.520? 
    • Consider further felawe (522), freendes (527) and My deere freend (544)?
  • What is the effect of the repetition of the ‘thou' forms of the personal pronoun at the start of this dialogue?
  • What's the effect on the reader of the particular phrase that Chaucer chooses in l.554-5 for ‘anywhere in the world'?
  • How does Chaucer's wording suggest spiritual forces above and beyond the sordid actions and thoughts of the youths?
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