The Pardoner's Prologue - l.101-138

Synopsis of l.101 - 138 of The Pardoner's Prologue

The Pardoner gleefully describes the preaching techniques that convey his sincerity, but explains that, in fact, he only preaches because he desires money or seeks to be malicious.

It's always worth noticing how an author at times saturates writing with key ideas and word clusters. The two key images here are:

  • Money (pens, coveityse, avarice, etc.) 
  • Deceit (false, japes, ypocrisye, under hewe, etc.).

Commentary on l.101-38 of The Pardoner's Prologue

l.101 gaude: trick

l.102 An hundred mark: £66.66, a large sum of money in Chaucer's time

l.103-11 Though the Pardoner is not ordained (a clerk), he preaches, always with the aim of getting people to part with their money. The pulpit is the raised structure in a church from which a sermon is given:

  • This passage describes satirically, as if in a cartoon, the physical body language that is part of the pardoner's performance
  • The people are lewed (uneducated) and therefore easy to cheat
  • He tells japes (tricks): his ‘patter' and, probably, some of the lively anecdotes and jokes that any skilful preacher regularly used to enliven their message.

l.108 bekke: nod

l.110 yerne: eagerly

l.112-14 heavily ironic: The Pardoner has the cheek to preach to the people about how cursed avarice (love of money) is — in order to make them give up their money readily to him! The neat ending of l.114 conveys his glee at his own trickery.

l.115-16  Note Chaucer's clever rhyme: wynne (to make money) and synne:

  • Church reformers complained that whereas the Church ought to be concerned about people's sins, very often its officials were only concerned to make money.

l.117-23  Chaucer succinctly lists the misuses of preaching by men like the Pardoner:

  • Confession of sins was considered vital in order for people to get to heaven, yet the Pardoner doesn't care if souls go blackberrying—go astray to the devil
  • Sermons, Chaucer conveys, can often be motivated by evil desires: to flatter, to get on in one's career, hypocritically, to show off (vainglory = conceit) or to express hatred.

l.124-34  Chaucer portrays the skill with which preaching can be abused. Motivated by personal animosity, a preacher may defame his enemy anonymously from the pulpit when he dare not debate with him openly and honestly 

l.134 hewe: colour, often used at this period metaphorically to mean a pretence, something covering up a secret. The Pardoner's outward show of holiness is entirely hypocritical.

l.135 entente: intention
        devise: explain, make clear

l.136 coveitise: avarice, covetousness

l.138 the love of money is the root of evil


Investigating l. 101-38 of The Pardoner's Prologue 

  • Try reading aloud l. 117-134, following the rhythm of the line and the sentences
    • What is the effect of the words: stinge, smerte (l. 125) spitte, venom (l. 133)?
  • As a speech, the Prologue, gets a lot of its effect from repetition
    • What key ideas are repeated, and in what forms?
    • Look at the Pardoner's statement in l. 119-123
  • Who could the Pardoner have in mind when he says that he sometimes attacks individuals in his congregation (l. 124-134)?
  • The theme of the Pardoner's sermons is ‘Love of money is the root of all evil' (l. 46,138):
    • How does Chaucer develop the theme of making money in l. 110-117, 135-40?
  • While this Prologue mostly exposes the evil ways of a cheat, it also subtly reminds the reader of right principles
    • Note where you find Chaucer's writing reminding you of better ways to behave, even while presenting the mindset of an evil character.
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