The Pardoner's deceit

The Pardoner's outward show of holiness is entirely hypocritical. There is a cluster of words about deceit associated with him:

  • He talks about the ‘gaude' or trick by which he dupes his hearers (l.101)
  • He has no desire to ‘counterfete' or imitate the apostles (l.159)
  • He enjoys his cunning and talks of ‘fals', ‘japes', ‘ypocrisye', ‘under hewe' (colour, often used at this period metaphorically to mean a pretence, something covering up a secret) l.101-38.

He is open about the fact that his claims of spiritual power are false claims, that:

  • Anyone on his list will be admitted into heaven
  • He can absolve people from their sins
  • Paying him money is enough to cleanse away sin.

Deceit and the youths

The three youths are equally duplicitous. Despite hailing each other as ‘my sworen brother' (l.5200), ‘felawe' (522), ‘freendes' (527) and ‘My deere freend' (544), they plan to deceive, then kill, each other under the guise of a playful scuffle and celebratory drink. The youngest rioter readily fabricates the reason he requires poison from the chemist.

They seem to anticipate that others are equally deceitful. When the leading youth wants to know the occupant of the hearse, he demands of his servant boy:


‘looke that thou report his name wel!' (l.381)


After they hear the Old Man seeking to leave, the next youth accuses him of being Death's ‘espye … oon of his assent' and a ‘false theef' (l.467, 470-1), despite the note of authenticity in his account.

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