Scatological references and bodily functions

Both Chaucer's Host and Pardoner use robust language for particular effect.

The Pardoner and digestion

The Pardoner's diatribe against the evils of gluttony seems to relish its disgusting aspects, which is surprising for a man who enjoys his food so much:

  • The metaphor in l.239 powerfully links a glutton's throat with the toilet
  • His apostrophe in l.246 addresses the abdomen as ‘belly' (a lower prestige Viking word) rather than the more polite ‘stomach' (a higher prestige French word)
  • The gut (‘stinkyng cod') is described in terms of the stench associated with its end product
  • Delicious food is degraded to ‘donge' and rotten ‘corrupcioun' (l.247)

He displays a fastidious distaste for the other noxious outworkings of the body:

  • The sounds of burping and farting (l.248) and of a very drunk person panting and breathing through the nose (l.266-7)
  • The ‘sour … breeth' and body odour of the inebriate (l.264)
  • Such people are little short of ‘swyn' (l.268). 

Whatever the Pardoner's personal appetites, the strength of the images he uses make a powerful point memorably, which is the ostensible aim of his sermon

The Host's coarse language

The coarse references of the Host at the end of the Pardoner's narrative serve two purposes:

  • They express the strength of his outrage at the Pardoner's hypocrisy
  • They ‘bring down to earth' the spurious authority and elevated jargon which has masked the Pardoner's true aim.

He refers to ‘thyn olde breech' stained by excrement from the Pardoner's anus (l.662). He then wishes to ‘kutte' off the Pardoner's balls and roll them up in a pig's ‘toord' (l.664-7). This scatology is direct in its target but also humorous to the onlooker, resulting in the smug Pardoner being doubly demeaned.

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