The Pardoner's Prologue - l.139-174

Synopsis of l. 139-74 of The Pardoner's Prologue

This final section of The Prologue continues to describe the way in which the Pardoner preaches. It focuses more on the theme of avarice, contrasting it to voluntary poverty. Acceptance of poverty and lack of obsession with material things were important moral concepts in the Middle Ages. See Religious / philosophical context > Medieval attitudes to poverty and wealth

Having finished his drink, the Pardoner concludes by saying he is now ready to tell a ‘moral' tale, despite being immoral himself. 

Commentary on l.139-74 of The Pardoner's Prologue

l.142 twynne: depart from something, abandon:

  • This section of the Prologue raises the question of whether a good result can come even from a wicked person's actions and intentions.

l.147 ensamples ‘examples'. This has a particular meaning in relation to sermons. A common feature of medieval sermons were ‘examples', stories told to illustrate a point. The Pardoner's Tale purports to be one such story, showing how love of money can be the root of evil.

l.149 lewed: uneducated (original meaning is lay people)

l.151 What, trowe ye: What, do you think that … ? This ye is the plural form

l.152 for I teche: by teaching or preaching

l.153 wilfully: by choice, willingly:

  • The Pardoner uses a related word, the verb ‘I wol' several times in this part of the text. This term conveys the Pardoner's self-centredness and the way in which he sets his own views and desires above concern for God's will or other people
  • By word play, Chaucer links this to a contrasting attitude: ‘wilful poverty'. The voluntary embrace of a simple life is a Christian ideal, especially in the Middle Ages. Priests and, particularly, monks, nuns and friars were supposed to imitate what was believed to have been the poverty of Jesus and the early Church 
  • While presenting worldly or sinful attitudes, Chaucer uses the language of a higher ideal. What is bad and what is good, what is worldly and what is heavenly are combined in the writing at moments like this. Thus, the ideal of poverty is brought into a passage about the mindset of someone entirely obsessed with money and material life.

l.155 in sondry landes: in various countries or regions
        labour: monks and nuns were supposed to work as well as to pray. Some early saints maintained themselves with modest occupations such as basket making (in the New Testament, the preacher, Paul, was a tent maker):

  • Again, the statements about the worldly attitudes of this man are filled with verbal hints at a higher concept of how a Christian should live, especially one who is an official of the Church.

l.159 counterfete: a more neutral word than in Modern English: ‘I don't want to imitate the apostles'
        Apostles: again the idea that Jesus and his apostles lived in poverty. The Wycliffites of Chaucer's time strongly urged the Church to give up its wealth and return to this apostolic poverty

l.162 moneye, wolle, chese and whete: typical donations that country farmers might give

l.161 page: here means a boy or servant lad

l.165 joly wench: ‘an attractive girl'. Joly had a range of meanings, ‘fine', ‘courageous', ‘attractive' among them. It didn't have the rollicking sense of the modern ‘jolly'
        Wench: a colloquial and somewhat pejorative word for a young woman: ‘a bird'

l.169 hope: intend 

l.171-3 offers the reader a conundrum to ponder over for the whole of the text

l.173 winne: ‘gain'


Investigating The Pardoner's Prologue l.139-74

  • Apart from the ongoing themes of money and deceit, do you find any other clusters of words which convey a theme?
  • According to the medieval mindset, what aspects of wrongdoing are brought to light here?
    • What words suggest more virtuous attitudes and actions?
    • What is the effect of juxtaposing virtuous and wrong ways of living?

Investigating The Pardoner's Prologue as a whole (l.41-174)

  • List all the different ways in which this passage stresses outward impressions?
    • How is a sense of performance (rather than sincerity) suggested (think not just of what is said by the Pardoner, but the way it come across)?
  • Make a list of those words and phrases used by Chaucer which you feel put the audience / reader into a superior position, seeing the fraudulence of what the Pardoner is doing
  • What in the writing makes us decide, without Chaucer's text spelling it out explicitly here, that the Pardoner is a cheat?
  • What satirical point is implied by the statement that the Pardoner only has one topic?
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