Final link passage l.658-680: Anger and reconciliation

Synopsis of l.658-680 Anger and reconciliation

The Host reacts angrily at being singled out by the Pardoner and rudely compares his relics with his faeces and testicles. The Pardoner is silenced by fury, leaving the Host to complain that he can't take a joke. The Knight then intervenes to get them to agree to be friends.

Commentary on l.658-680 Anger and reconciliation

l.658 have I Crystes curs: the strength of the Host's blasphemy (‘Christ curse me if I do') conveys his explosive reaction

l.659 so theech: so may I thrive or prosper

l.660 thyn old breech: one of the relics which the pilgrims would see when they reached Canterbury was the hair shirt and hair breeches of Thomas Becket. Such underclothes, made of scratchy haircloth, were a form of daily penance, aimed at subduing the body and encouraging the life of the soul. Pilgrims would kiss some relics of the saint at the shrine (though it seems these clothes hung over the tomb)

l.662 with thy fundament depeint: painted with your excrement

l.663 crois: cross
        Saint HelenSeint Eleyne: Saint Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great, was traditionally supposed to have been the finder of the remains of the actual cross on which Christ was crucified, the most famous of all relics

l.664 coillons: testicles. The wording here harks back to the theme of the Pardoner's sexuality in his General Prologue portrait

l.665 seintuarie: reliquary – a box in which relics were kept

l.666 I wol thee helpe hem carie: I will help you carry them (i.e. when they have been cut off)

l.667 shryned: Shrines could be smallish caskets or medium-sized containers of various kinds, as well as rooms and chapels in churches. Relics were also often set in elaborate boxes or crystal containers. By presenting a parody of this—the Pardoner's testicles encased in a pig's turd - the Host is creating a metaphor for all the Pardoner's relics and claims. They are disgusting and worthless 

l.669 wrooth: angry. One of the Seven Deadly Sins

l.670 pleye: continue with the game of story-telling. A clever touch by Chaucer: it is, in the immediate context, the Host, not the Pardoner, who is being angry. Play had a much wider range of meanings than today and referred to adults' amusements and enjoyment as well as children's

l.672-80 Order and harmony are restored by the Knight who takes on the role of the ruler and organiser. He is one of the surrogates for authorial control and also, as the highest-ranking pilgrim, the obvious person to enforce good behaviour and social order

l.676,7 ye: you. This is the polite and respectful form ‘you' (like ‘vous' in French or ‘Sie' in German); note that the Pardoner gets thee in contrast
        Kisse: Kisses were a common occurrence in the Middle Ages. They had several cultural meanings:

  • As a gesture of respect, as in the kissing of relics by the devout
  • As the sign of an agreement or a contract (like shaking hands)
  • As a demonstration of reconciliation. 

Although the primary, surface and literal meaning here is clearly that of a kiss as a sign of reconciliation, Chaucer cleverly uses a gesture that also has overtones of same-sex attachment. (That resonance would be absent if he had chosen shaking hands or simply some reference to making up the quarrel and becoming friends.)

l.678 thee: you. This is the familiar form of ‘you' (like ‘tu' in French or ‘du' in German) 

l.679 we diden: ‘as we did previously.' Here we see the old plural verb ending –en, seen also in been and han in ll. 10, 14, etc., and in ridden l. 682

l.680 A simple but clever line, combining the image of a concluding unity replacing dramatic conflict, peace after a storm, but also looking forward to the future in the motif of the pilgrims continuing on their way. Chaucer's text breaks off here. We do not know which tale he intended to follow. This is the end of one of the many ‘fragments' in which The Canterbury Tales has survived for us.

Chaucer's dynamic narrative in the final Link

The final section of the The Canterbury Tales is famous for demonstrating Chaucer's dynamic narrative art. Like the pilgrims, we are ‘wrong footed' as the mood and intention suddenly change. 

First, Chaucer takes us from involvement in a clearly moral story back to the persuasive rhetoric of the sermon. The Pardoner deftly moves from deploring sin generally in the first section to addressing the particular group of people in front of him. By very nature, sermons are intended to elicit a response from everyone who hears one – i.e. it is no longer a tale about ‘them' but about ‘us'.

Our perspective shifts again when we move from engaging with the moral pity of hurting God, to realising the immoral purposes of the Pardoner, trying to cheat people out of their money. At the same time, Chaucer asks us to stand back and see the representation of the Pardoner as symptomatic of the wider abuses of the medieval church. 

The Host's explosion of anger perhaps echoes the reactions of Chaucer's audience (and us) to the wicked duping of innocent believers, but then goes beyond what is appropriate into a scatological and (possibly) homophobic rant, from which we may recoil. Then he says he is only joking and we do not know what to think.

There is a sense that the intervention of the Knight fulfills two functions:

  • He re-establishes a safe narrative perspective – we are able to settle with him as a guide to what is the right response
  • As a counterpoint to the abuses highlighted and demonstrated by the Pardoner, the Knight re-establishes moral order, encouraging fellowship, good humour and replacing the sin of wrath with a charitable attitude. 

Investigating the final link passage, l. 608-680: Reaction 

  • Do you feel that the joke about the Pardoner's breeches is: 
    • Just an attack on the outrageous lengths to which the cheat will go to make money out of people?
    • A possible criticism of the general cult of relics, which was attacked by Wyclif's followers?
    • A homophobic attack on the Pardoner?
  • Whatever you think about the above, what for you is the effect of the scatological and sexual words that follow: fundament, turd, and coillons?
  • In The General Prologue there is a comment that the Pardoner may be a ‘gelding' (a eunuch) or ‘mare' (effeminate):
    • Does this idea affect the way in which you read the reaction of the Host?
  • Pick out examples of how the theme of death continues to run through the final section of The Pardoner's Tale:
    • What aspects of death are referred to?
  • What is the effect of ‘thou' from the Host and Knight to the Pardoner?
    • ‘ye' from the Knight to the Host?
  • Why do you think Chaucer inserts a reference to a relic that was believed to be authentic and one which was of the highest reverence for Christians (the ‘true Cross', said to have been discovered by St Helen)?
  • What effect (if any) does this have on your perspective?
  • Think through the idea that the Knight's words and encouragement of reconciliation tie up the story in a moral sense as well as being practically apt:
    • How ‘satisfied' do you feel at the end of the narrative?
    • Have the issues raised by the preceding The Pardoner's Prologue and The Tale been resolved in your view?
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