The Pardoner's Tale l.301-372: Gambling and swearing

Synopsis of l.301-340: Gambling

The Pardoner starts the next section of his ‘sermon' warning about the sin of gambling and all the evils associated with it. Then Chaucer turns specifically to gambling as being unacceptable in people holding authority, offering two examples.

Commentary on l.301-340: Gambling

l.301-8 A list of sins that stem from gambling

l.303 verray mooder: true mother. Then, as in the previous section, the attention is particularly designed as Advice for Princes, a common medieval form of writing. Chaucer says it is a rebuke to a man and against his honour to be known as a gambler

l.305 Blaspheme of Cryst: swearing by God or Jesus Christ (blasphemy) means disobeying the third of the Ten Commandments according to Exodus 20:7

l.308 Commune: has the sense here of ‘public' or common, with an implication of ‘notorious'

l.315-32 Example: a wise Roman ambassador refused to negotiate with a regime in which leading men gambled 

l.315 Stilboun: John of Salisbury gave the name as Chilon

Spartan, drawing by SAWg3rd available through Creative Commonsl.317 Lacidomye: Sparta in Greece

l.327 me were levere die: I would rather die. Spartans were famous for their military glory

l.333-40 Another example: King Demetrius, a gambler, is humiliated when the King of Parthia (in modern Iran) contemptuously sends him some golden dice

l.334 the book: John of Salisbury's Polycraticus in which the story is told

l.335 dees: dice. Betting on dice was the commonest medieval form of gambling

Chaucer's writing

Chaucer employs examples which press home the lesson for upper-class people especially. He scatters vocabulary associated with princes and rulers through this section of writing. In addition, there are many verbal reminders of the bad reputation that gambling brings to people, with words like honour recurring in the text. By contrast, Stilboun's condemnation of gambling is associated with wisdom at the start and end of the passage.

Investigating l.301-340: Gambling

  • How does Chaucer show different sins as connected?
    • What do you think he achieves by doing that?
  • Pick out the vocabulary associated with princes and rulers 
  • How does Chaucer's choice of words help to support the lesson that gambling is particularly shameful for a lord or prince?

Synopsis of l.341-372: Swearing

The ‘sermon' continues with an explanation of the evils of swearing using the names of God or Jesus Christ (blasphemy). This is contrary to the teaching of the Bible and particularly forbidden by the third of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:7). Ironically, the Pardoner's rant becomes so emphatic that he himself blasphemes!

Commentary on l.341-372: Swearing

l.341 fals: swearing an oath to do something but breaking the promise. Keeping one's word was of immense importance in medieval ethics
        grete: ‘great oaths' were oaths referring to Christ's body and crucifixion, which were counted as highly offensive and vulgar blasphemy. Taking God's name in vain meant treating God trivially 

l.346 Matthew 5:34-37 The plain speaking advocated here is in contrast to the Pardoner's rhetoric 

l.348-9 The Pardoner's use of the word doom (judgement) would remind his hearers of the serious consequences they faced if they ignored his teaching. Wycliff's traslation of Jeremiah 4;2 reads: 'And thou shalt swear, 'The Lord liveth,' in truth, and in doom, and in rightfulness ... all folks shall bless him'. A modern version (ESVUK) reads: 'and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him.' which captures the conditional nature of the swearing.

Moses with the Ten Commandmentsl.351 firste table: in the first tablet, part of the Ten Commandments. These were divided into two sets, matching the two tablets of stone containing the Ten Commandments brought down by Moses from Mount Sinai Exodus 20:1-17. The first set includes the commandment forbidding swearing: ‘Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain.'

l.352 heestes: commandments

l.353 the second hest: The Pardoner refers to the avoidance of blasphemy as the second rather than the third Commandment, as in medieval teaching the first two Commandments were often treated as one

l.360-2 Ecclesiasticus 23:12: ‘If he swear in vain, he shall not be innocent but his house shall be full of calamities'. This teaching comes from the Apocrypha. Also see The Apocrypha

l.362 Outrageous: excessive

l.363-67 Chaucer inserts some direct speech, giving gruesome examples of the sort of blasphemy that was common, then cleverly links this with the discourse of gamblers (l. 365 ‘Sevene is my chaunce, and thyn is cink and treye!'). He combines two of the points in his sermon, illustrating how gamblers make ‘great oaths'. This then segues into the idea of murder

l.364 blood … in Hayles: The Pardoner was familiar with the market in relics. The abbey at Hailes in Gloucestershire claimed to have a bottle of the blood which came from the body of Jesus on the cross, making it a lucrative focus for pilgrims 

Dice, photo by Angela Monika Arnold, available through Creative Commonsl.365 Cynk, treye: dice numbers had French names: ace, deuce, treye, cater, cynk, sice. A chaunce is a throw in the game of hazard which, though not producing the two winning numbers, lets the thrower have a second throw

l.370 for the love of Cryst: Chaucer highlights the hypocrisy of the Pardoner who himself blasphemes to conclude his sermon against blasphemy


Investigating l.341-371: Swearing

  • How do Chaucer' sections on oaths, gluttony and gambling prefigure aspects of the subsequent story about the three rioters?
    • Create a table linking the sections of his ‘sermon' with the relevant situations in the actual story
  • By now you will have come across the devices Chaucer uses to signal that a new section is starting - remember how necessary these are for an oral performance
    • Go back through the poem thus far and make a note of the techniques you have noticed
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