The Pardoner's Tale - l.195-209

Synopsis of l.195-209

Through the voice of the Pardoner, Chaucer devotes a succession of brilliant rhetorical passages to attacking the sin of gluttony (under which drunkenness was included), together with other sins which derive from it.

Commentary on l.195-209

l.195-6 Here a section begins that shows different sins to be interlocked.

l.195 hooly writ: the Holy Bible. As today, a preacher grounds his teaching in a text from the Bible, here (Ephesians 5:18 ‘Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.' TNIV). The warning that gluttony—food and drink—often led to lust / lechery was common
        luxurie: lechery

Lot's daughtersl.197 Looth: Lot (see Genesis 19:30-36 which says that Lot's daughters made him drunk so that he would sleep with them and they could thus bear children). This story constitutes the first ‘example'. It illustrates the teaching that drunkenness (a form of gluttony) can lead to lechery
        unkyndely: unnaturally (‘not according to kind / nature')

l.199 nyste: did not know

l.200 The second example teaches the way in which drink leads to other sins: Herod Antipas (ruler of Judaea from 4 BC – 39 AD) when drunk agreed to the murder of John the Baptist, God's prophet (Matthew 14:6-11).
        Who so….: ‘whomsoever / anyone who' has carefully searched through the histories'
        Stories: often means ‘histories'

l.204 Senec The third ‘example'. This time, a quotation from classical literature rather than an account from the Bible. It is from Seneca, the first-century Roman writer on morals, much admired in the fourteenth century. He links gluttony to abuse of a person's intelligence / loss of reason.

SenecaMore on Seneca: Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a Roman moralist. His writings commanded great respect in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. He died in 65 AD. Because of his writings on ethics, Seneca is one of the ancient writers whose words commanded something like the same respect as was given to Scripture. Such writings, like the Bible, might be cited as ‘authorities' to support opinions and teaching.     

l.208 But that: except that: the only difference Seneca said he could see was that madness lasts longer than drunkenness does
        Shrew: a rogue or a man filled with hostility. Not at this period restricted to women or associated particularly with nagging

Authorial and narrative voice

Reading any of The Canterbury Tales needs to be done on two levels:

  • The narrative voice is that of the fictional character (here, the Pardoner) who is delivering the story. Unlike in nineteenth century realist fiction, this voice is not always consistent with the ‘portrait' given of him or her in The General Prologue. There are some links between the themes of The Pardoner's Tale and the character of the Pardoner as shown in The General Prologue, the Link and The Pardoner's Prologue, but they occur at the level of shared and continuing themes (death, drink, materialism, possibly homosexuality), not as a simple expression of a personality through his own speech. Furthermore, the speaking voice of the fictional narrator sometimes seems to ‘fade out' in favour of
  • The authorial voice of Chaucer, who asks the reader to ‘step back' as it were and observe / assess the narrator and his/her ‘message'. In fact, Chaucer rarely keeps up the pretence that his stories are the direct expression of his characters' attitudes or personalities
  • This double sense of where the story is coming from is one of the complicating factors in studying Chaucer. 

To summarise: Much of what is presented here is a brilliantly told moral tale, plus passages of rhetorical discussion about various sins. Don't keep trying to see this as expressing what the Pardoner knows or thinks. It doesn't work that way. 


Investigating l.195–209

  • What wording or rhetorical devices in this section make it sound particularly persuasive?
  • How many consequences does the passage list for the sins of lechery and gluttony?
  • What literary devices are employed to draw listeners into the text?
  • The prevailing culture of any era makes attitudes seem natural. Studying medieval writing shows us both the source of some attitudes that are still current and also how a different culture can produce assumptions that no longer seem ‘natural' to us any more:
    • With a partner think through which assumptions here seem to be current today and which now seem ‘alien' to modern thinking.
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