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What Characteristics of the Pardoner's Tale Make it Seem Like a Sermon?

Canterbury Tales - the Pardoner's Tale: a focused analysis

Compiled with immensely strong religious connotations throughout as well as the obvious, the Pardoner?s tale sets forth a distinct feeling to the reader as being a sermon read aloud. The focal point of the tale is to determine the moral question of greed and its closely associated forms such as gluttony and in doing so, delivering the Godly message to abstain from such practices that are considered to form a part of the seven deadly sins. Moreover, it should be kept in mind that when reflecting upon the similarity of the tale to a sermon, we should be considering a medieval sermon and not one of the present day since there are great differences between the two.

Medieval sermons were composed of six ordered categories by which a Pardoner?s sermon would provide a message that would hold testament to the teachings of Christ and do so in an ordered manner. This was achieved by an introductory statement followed by a protheme, dilatation, exemplum, peroration and finally the benediction all in the respective order. In the Pardoner?s Tale it seems that all are covered by the Pardoner except the protheme and dilation ? though there are casual references to the Bible.

The Pardoner?s Prologue can be directly interpreted as his statement or introduction to the sermon that follows suit. The Pardoner employs a unique role in that his introducing us to the sins takes place through his personal experiences, actions and wrong-doings. For example, he mentions that ?I preach for nothing but for covetousness? and enforces this later by ?the very vice I practice which is greed?. Ultimately, we realise the immense hypocrisy of his sermon in that he is ?able to make other people part from avarice?though that is not my principal intent?. Finally, by the end of the prologue, we are firmly aware of the concept that will form the Pardoner?s tale ? Radix malorum est cupiditas. Greed, envy and all similar sinful characteristics are chastised by Christianity and it is expected now that the Pardoner will tell ?a tale of days long done? that will denounce greed ? a formidable deadly sin.

There are no quotations from either of the four gospels which would negate the mentioning of the protheme. However, there are religious references to stories much larger. Lot?s story of fornicating with his daughters is only a portion of otherwise his great endeavours. In fact, we tend to disgust Lot through the portion read in the tale, though if we were to know the circumstances and his previous good-doings ? a different idea could have been formed. Even with Herod the Great, only his killing of John the Baptist is mentioned and the entire massacre of the children of Israel is left out. This raises confusion until finally the reference to Adam and Eve is provided. The pardoner is implicating that everyone has to fight greed ? no matter how religiously capable they may be nor their level of dedication to undermine evil. It from here now that the Pardoner is able to switch his tale to the next stage.

The exemplum tells us the story of three men, setting out in good faith but being caught eventually by greed and malice for one another ? to such an extent that they are driven to kill each other. Similar tales are heard often but what is so striking of the Pardoner?s is how he relates the misgivings to religion ? linking his story to what is a vague dilation. The mission is taken up as an oath ?by God?s holy bones? and so it becomes a sort of Crusade whereby ?God?s dignity? is upheld. Such holiness is further enforced by the fact that the group is composed of a trio. Three is a holy number and represents unity and strength against external forces.

The peroration is striking in the passage as we are distinctly made aware of the several ironies that engulf the entire tale. Other than the Pardoner?s own ironic faith whereby he practices what he preaches against ? gluttony and avarice, the tale within itself mirrors such problems. The three men, though they are a deadly force to any who may stand against them ? they are easily crippled when they are made to face their personal ambitions or moral character. In this case it is gluttony and greed and we see the triangular strength being ripped apart from the inside as there are no longer any focal points for either three to rest upon in support of each other. This metaphorical connotation is represented by their very final acts where the kill each other. The final important irony is when we see that is was the old man who was the strongest of all. His physical limitations were inevitably his greatest strength. Being unable to carry the immense pile of gold with his crippled body, the old beggar has come to accept the world?s limitations and taken heed of spiritual strength. Perhaps this is why Death does not claim him even after all these years because he would emerge victorious by living on forever in God?s heaven. He displays the greatest moral strength and personal integrity and that is why even though people are dying in the village and there is a looming hysteria ? the old beggar not only survives but is seen to be the most wise and most deserving of a good life.

The closing formula of the tale ? or its benediction ? is well expected because just as the three dead men, the Pardoner is about to get caught in a scuffle himself with Sir Host on their holy pilgrimage. Though it is interrupted this time by ?the worthy Knight?, we see that in the end there is no support whatever to fight of gluttony and avarice. For if God?s very own servants are consumed so heavily by it ? there is no way one may look for help in one another. The only way it seems is that of the old beggar ? to discover personal composure and solitude and be at peace with the world, never laying one?s hopes in an others.

Regardless of the tale?s structural similarity to a medieval sermon, there are other distinctions as well. The rhyming couplets provide a flowing pace to the entire tale allowing it to be read or announced with ease and authority. In such a way, sermons are delivered even today. Concluding, I think that the Pardoner?s tale reflects quite strongly what would be a medieval sermon. The reason for this can be explained by the moral question at hand ? the preoccupation of religion in combating gluttony and avarice. Since the entire tale debates religious and moral values, it would only be sensible to enact it as a sermon whereby the audience receive advice on how to tread their moral paths. Although embroiled in hypocrisy, the reader gains nonetheless as we learn that even in all this evil ? there is still some good in the form of the old beggar.

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