The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Beidler, Peter G. "The Plague and Chaucer's Pardoner." 16 (1982): 257-69.
Reading the Pardoner's Tale in light of the plague deepens readers' understanding of the tale. The three rioters of the tale enjoy themselves in the tavern as did those who historically survived the plague. The treasure appears under the tree because it had belonged to a victim of the plague, and the old man is a survivor of the plague from a nearby village. Boccaccio's Decameron provides useful contemporary evidence about medieval attitudes toward the plague. A plague setting allows the Pardoner to suggest that money is corrupt and that all humans must be prepared to die. The Host responds angrily to the Pardoner because the Pardoner's sinfulness makes the Host and the other pilgrims vulnerable as the next plague victims.
Braswell-Means, Laurel. "A New Look at an Old Patient: Chaucer's Summoner and Medieval Physiognomia." 25 (1991): 266-75.
Using medieval medical theory based on Aristotle, Galen, and Hippocrates, and medieval physiognomy, Chaucer constructs the Summoner's portrait so as to describe the Summoner's medical conditions. The Summoner is clearly unnaturally hot as both his description and his cures indicate. The combination of these two suggests that the Summoner is choleric, according to Galen and Avicenna. Chaucer sees the Summoner and the Pardoner as variations of the same humor character. The Summoner's disease is also associated with sexuality, and astrological details associate him with Mars. This combination suggests that the Summoner would experience his most difficult time of year in the spring. The Summoner's disease is incurable, except by the spiritual healing he would experience at the shrine of Thomas a Becket.
Cook, Robert. "The Canon's Yeoman and His Tale." 22 (1987): 28-40.
In the Canon's Yeoman's Tale the teller is most important. Like the Wife of Bath and the Pardoner, the Canon's Yeoman is self-revealing. Unlike the Pardoner and the Wife, the Canon's Yeoman is slowly changing his life, repudiating alchemy. He shows a desire to avoid becoming a false alchemist and to warn others of the evils of alchemy. These concerns affect the way he tells his tale.
Covella, Sister Frances Dolores. "The Speaker of the Wife of Bath Stanza and Envoy." 4 (1970): 267-83.
Given the Clerk's characterization in the General Prologue and in his tale, readers must find it difficult to believe that he is the speaker of the whole Envoy which appears at the end of his tale, particularly since it includes the "Wife of Bath" stanza which disputes the moral of his tale. Manuscript evidence does not clearly indicate whether the Clerk mockingly imitates the Wife or whether he indeed speaks the entirety of the Envoy or if the Pardoner, the Host, or the Wife may have interrupted the Clerk at this point. Of the four possible speakers, the Wife of Bath seems most probable, but there is not conclusive evidence to support this assertion.
Dean, Christopher. "Salvation, Damnation and the Role of the Old Man in the Pardoner's Tale." 3 (1968): 44-49.
By regarding the story of the three revelers as an exemplum, one separates the character of the old man from the Pardoner. The old man, who gives the sternest of the three warnings the revelers receive, can then be shown to represent two sides of God--mercy and justice.
Delasanta, Rodney. "And of Great Reverence: Chaucer's Man of Law." 5 (1971): 288-310.
Chaucer creates a pattern of mistakes for the Man of Law which undermine his claim to authority. The Man of Law refers to characters mentioned in prologues to works as if they were the characters on which the work concentrated, thus suggesting that he has only read the prologues to these works, not the works themselves. Even his references to Old Testament characters reflect second-hand knowledge. In addition, Chaucer gives the Man of Law the same kind of rhetorical language he gives to characters like the Pardoner and the Merchant whom he deliberately undermines. Furthermore, in the Man of Law's Tale, Chaucer reveals the Man of Law to be a pharisee by having him paint Christians as completely good and the "enemy" as entirely evil. Chaucer thus undercuts both the Man of Law's pretended cultural refinements and his self-proclaimed righteousness.
Fletcher, Alan J. "The Topical Hypocrisy of Chaucer's Pardoner." 25 (1990): 110-26.
The Pardoner's hypocrisy was an intensely interesting topic for Chaucer's audience. The reference to the Pardoner's veiled venom suggests an anti-Lollard poem from the first half of the fifteenth century. The language Chaucer uses for the Pardoner refers to the orthodox-Lollard debate in which the orthodox accused the Lollards of hypocrisy. Chaucer probably chose the Pardoner as a character in order to examine this issue, because pardoners were traditionally hypocrites, but the Lollardry gives an added twist to conventional material.
Fritz, Donald W. "Reflections in a Golden Florin: Chaucer's Narcissistic Pardoner." 21 (1987): 338-59.
Scrutiny of the Pardoner demonstrates that he has never achieved entry into the adult world. Instead he remains in the puer stage, as shown by his self-focus and fascination with his own desires, his fear of commitment, age, and death, and his desire for wealth. His self-centeredness diametrically opposes his presentation of himself as a great spiritual force who can absolve sins. He attracts audiences by his boldness in revealing his loathing for them. His tale also reflects his puerility. The Host's response to the Pardoner indicates that he has pierced the Pardoner's façade and will not reinforce any of the Pardoner's ego-gratification.
Halverson, John. "Chaucer's Pardoner and the Progress of Criticism." 4 (1970): 184-202.
The Pardoner's motivation for his tale has been hotly debated; the question of his drunkenness and of the strained relationship between him and the other pilgrims is closely related to his motivation. Critics argue that the Pardoner merely attempts to con the pilgrims or that he is demonstrating his pride in his ability to defraud. His overblown self-descriptions, however, become dubious, but the "benediction" presents a difficulty for this view. Early critics understood the Pardoner's impotence as a representation of his spiritual state. Now, critics more carefully examine indications that the Pardoner and the Summoner are homosexual. Other scholars have attempted to demonstrate that the Pardoner has some orthodox tendencies, but he remains a disgusting character. If readers take his self-descriptions at face value, they perceive that he has committed the unforgivable sin--rejecting God--so he experiences "living death and present hell" (192). From the beginning, the Pardoner seems to focus on death, and his tale demonstrates a search for death. The ambiguity of the old man, however, has posed a problem for this interpretation. Various critics have suggested that he represents only an old man, Death himself, the Wandering Jew, and the vetus homo (old man of sin), or all of them at once. Readers must remember, however, that they know about the Pardoner only from what he himself says, and readers can assume that he is aware that he has a relationship to those around him. His "song" suggests a resemblance to Faux Semblant in Roman de la Rose and may show an attempt to manipulate his audience in order to play a trick on them. The Pardoner seems to wear a mask which serves both to protect him and to release malice while satisfying his ego. The Pardoner's playfulness escapes the Host who responds in anger, thus thwarting the Pardoner's desire to make the pilgrims look foolish and demonstrating that the Pardoner has overestimated the sophistication of his audience. At its root, however, the tale is a meditation on death which strongly affects the Pardoner and darkly colors his tale.
Harrington, David V. "Narrative Speed in the Pardoner's Tale." 3 (1968): 50-59.
The lack of transitions in the narrative of the Pardoner's Tale causes readers to miss the audacity of the Pardoner's telling about his own fraudulent activities. Readers both applaud the moral statements of the Pardoner's sermon and feel a growing disgust for him, but because of the speed at which the tale unfolds, have no time to stop and consider what they are reading. The poet uses rhetorical devices--asyndeton, hyperbaton--to denote hurried movement. The seeming disjointedness of the elements in the Pardoner's sermon contributes to this sense of a quickly unfolding narrative. Readers then, should not consider the Pardoner's Tale with an eye to the strength of the contradictions, but instead, focus on the degree to which this tale reflects a truth of the human condition--that all people experience similar contradictions between their beliefs and their behavior.
Higuchi, Masayuki. "On the Integration of the Pardoner's Tale." 22 (1987): 161-69.
Every text has an "integrator," a word, phrase, or morpheme on which it turns. In the Pardoner's Tale, "deeth" is the integrator, connecting the description of the Pardoner, the prologue to his tale, and his tale.
Khinoy, Stephan A. "Inside Chaucer's Pardoner?" 6 (1972): 255-67.
Readers may explore the Pardoner as a problem of language use and its power. By accepting Harry Bailly's proposal to tell tales as a way to pass the time while travelling, the clergy accepted a proposal which, by its nature, required them to participate in lies. Thus, when the Nun's Priest tells his tale, he requests that the pilgrims find the nut and leave the chaff as a justification for telling a tale at all. The Pardoner, however, does not fit in with the clerical tale-tellers. Instead, he presents "art for art's sake" (258). He reverses the relationship between prologue and tale in that his immoral prologue imposes on his moral sermon in order to make the pilgrims the inversion itself. The way the Pardoner tells his tale causes his audience to pay more attention to the outside (chaff) of the tale than the inside (nut). Thus, the Pardoner takes a position opposite that of Reason with regard to language. Reason asserts that divine will names things. The Pardoner suggests that names are merely human convention. Though the external appearance of the old man is uninviting, Chaucer uses him to suggest that meaning and value are not imposed, but intrinsic.
Knoepflmacher, U. C. "Irony through Scriptural Allusion: A Note on Chaucer's Prioresse." 4 (1970): 180-83.
The description of the Prioress in the General Prologue includes many puns, including that on "grece" and "grace." This pun alludes to Matthew 23 and functions as a faint warning to clerics, male or female, who pay great attention to outward behavior. The reference to the dogs recalls Matthew 15 and casts aspersions on the depth of the Prioress's faith. The Prioress, however, is not portrayed as negatively as the Pardoner: she, at least, can feel.
Luengo, A. "Audience and Exempla in the Pardoner's Prologue and Tale." 11 (1976): 1-10.
The Pardoner presents two different kinds of stories to the pilgrims, alternating between exempla directed towards members of the lower class and moral anecdotes directed towards the pilgrims. He indicates shifts between one type of story and another by his form of address, and carefully chooses his words and content to appeal to the more "gentil" pilgrims (5). By carefully choosing a work from John of Salisbury's Policraticus, the Pardoner shows that he believes his audience to be somewhat educated. To make his tale more palatable to his audience, the Pardoner also eliminates exclamatio and most scatological imagery.
Maxfield, David K. "St. Mary Rouncivale, Charing Cross: The Hospital of Chaucer's Pardoner." 28 (1993): 148-63.
Hospitals in Chaucer's time provided care primarily for the souls of the sick, though limited medical care was available. St. Mary's of Rouncivale at Charing Cross was one such hospital. Chaucer chose that hospital as the base for the Pardoner because it offered ironical prospects and it may have had a negative reputation by Chaucer's time. Though Chaucer may not have known it, most of the Pardoner's pardons were probably based on false bulls.
Miller, Clarence H., and Roberta Bux Bosse. "Chaucer's Pardoner and the Mass." 6 (1972): 171-84.
Chaucer characterizes the Pardoner in such a way as to make him a deformed image of the Mass. Readers can examine the Pardoner's Tale as an Amalarian allegory. The Pardoner's tavern vices are all related to the Eucharist, and the abuses of the mass in which the three revelers participate results in a medieval Black Mass. Throughout his tale, however, the Pardoner does not recognize how the Passion connects these vices. The end the rioters suffer is a perverted reflection of Christ's Passion.
Noll, Dolores L. "The Serpent and the Sting in the Pardoner's Prologue and Tale." 17 (1982): 159-62.
The Pardoner identifies himself with Satan through serpent imagery, and though his own relics cannot cure sheep, the Eucharist, which the Pardoner seems to reject, is the antidote for Death, the ultimate sting of Satan.
Pearsall, Derek. "Chaucer's Pardoner: The Death of a Salesman." 17 (1983): 358-65.
The Pardoner tells his tale automatically; unlike the Wife of Bath, he has no inner life. In his tale, the rioters die because they fail to heed the old man and are already spiritually dead. The Pardoner is like his rioters in that he can tell his tale, but he does not recognize its inherent warning to himself.
Pelen, Marc M. "Murder and Immortality in Fragment VI (C) of the Canterbury Tales: Chaucer's Transformation of Theme and Image from the Roman de la Rose." 29 (1994): 1-25.
The Pardoner's Tale and the Physician's Tale oppose each other, but together they present "refraction of a more urgent poetic truth" (4). Ultimately the argument of both tales is the grace of God that is beyond the circumscription of words. In both tales, Chaucer responds to earlier legends, discussing murder and immorality. Such considerations derive from Chaucer's veneration of themes and images in the Roman de la Rose. The Physician's Tale also reacts to portions of the Roman de la Rose, and borrows a number of images from it. In the Roman de la Rose, readers recognize the contrasting voices of Genius, Reason, and Nature, just as they identify the opposing voices of the Physician and the Pardoner. In both works the full meaning of the poetry is outside of the dialogue between characters and beyond that between the writer and his audience.
Peterson, Joyce E. "With Feigned Flattery: The Pardoner as Vice." 10 (1976): 326-36.
Like the Vice figure of medieval drama, the Pardoner curries his audiences' favor. That the pilgrims laugh at the Pardoner suggests a cynicism regarding sin that will eventually lead them to accept it. The Pardoner is, however, more evil than the Vice figure because he encourages the pilgrims to commit the sin he represents. The laughter, then, indicates that they have rejected the Pardoner's enticements.
Pichaske, David R., and Laura Sweetland. "Chaucer on the Medieval Monarchy: Harry Bailly in the Canterbury Tales." 11 (1977): 179-200.
Because the Host "rules" the pilgrims (179), readers can examine his behavior and determine Chaucer's attitude towards the monarchy. As the tales progress in the Ellesmere order, readers perceive that the Host changes from tyrannical ruler to good governor. In Group I, the Host's response to the Miller shows him to be a poor ruler, and the domination of the Miller and the Reeve at the end of Group I suggests that the Host is not fit to rule. The Clerk's response to the Host's demand for a tale indicates an awareness of the limits under which a political ruler governs. The Host's response to the Pardoner shows that he has not yet recognized the authority of charity over all the pilgrims. He has, however, become more gentle. When the Host rescues the Cook, he demonstrates the care and concern of a good ruler for his subjects. At the entrance to Canterbury, the heavenly city, the Host relinquishes his rulership of the pilgrims. Readers should not be surprised by the political commentary in the Canterbury Tales, since both the Legend of Good Women and the "Lak of Stedfastnesse" include extended political comments.
Rhodes, James F. "Motivation in Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale: Winner Take Nothing." 17 (1982): 40-61.
The Pardoner is not completely a sinner, incapable of finding salvation. He seems to have a strange duality of personality that appears when he condemns the very sins he commits. Examination of the Pardoner's response to the Wife of Bath reveals parallels between them. For example both pilgrims seek a sense of belonging on the pilgrimage. The Wife's suffering does not seem to have diminished her desire for life and play. The Pardoner's assertions about fulfilling all his desires, on the other hand, ring hollow, and he fails to realize that his tale clearly reveals his façade. The Pardoner does not attempt to sell his relics to the pilgrims, but tries to fit in at the level of play. Preaching satisfies him because he derives a sense of power from it. The result of this role is that he plays the part of divine pardoner, promising his audiences that God's grace is for sale and refusing to recognize the suffering of Christ, whom Christians should imitate. Ultimately, the Pardoner cannot "play" with the other pilgrims because he cannot relinquish his professional identity. The Pardoner appears in his tale through the old man who, like the Pardoner, tests Christians to expose the weakness of their faith. His pious exterior conceals an evil heart. Like the Wandering Jew, the old man seems incapable of accepting the resurrection. The response of the pilgrims at the end of the tale draws the Pardoner from material to spiritual and re-establishes the community that his tale would destroy.
Rowland, Beryl. "Chaucer's Idea of the Pardoner." 14 (1979): 140-54.
Critics have suggested that the Pardoner is either a homosexual or a eunuch, but the imagery with which he is associated, his appearance, and his own words indicate that he is a hermaphrodite. Hermaphrodites have historically been the focus of attention, in both society and literature. Commonly, people believed that hermaphrodites had the gift of prophecy, but at birth a hermaphrodite was considered an unfortunate monstrosity. Chaucer plays on this dualism in his portrait of the Pardoner.
Sheneman, Paul. "The Tongue as a Sword: Psalms 56 and 63 and the Pardoner." 27 (1993): 396-400.
Given Chaucer's knowledge of the Psalms, readers can assume that Chaucer probably had in mind the image of the tongue as sharp sword when he created the Pardoner.
Spencer, William. "Are Chaucer's Pilgrims Keyed to the Zodiac?" 4 (1970): 147-70.
The sequence of the pilgrims in the General Prologue suggests that they are keyed to the zodiac. Readers can view each pilgrim in terms of the influence of the planets and the stars. Among the pilgrims whom a knowledge of the medieval science of the zodiac helps to illuminate are the Knight, the Squire, the Yeoman, the Prioress, the Monk, the Friar, the Merchant, the Clerk, the Man of Law, the Franklin, the Cook, the Shipman, the Physician, the Wife of Bath, the Parson, the Miller, the Manciple, the Reeve, the Summoner, and the Pardoner.
Stevens, Martin, and Kathleen Falvey. "Substance, Accident, and Transformations: A Reading of the Pardoner's Tale." 17 (1982): 142-58.
In the Pardoner's Tale, Chaucer deals with Sophism. The exemplum shows the Pardoner as a sinner. Ultimately, the tale makes death out of eternal life. The tavern situation in which the Pardoner tells his tale parodies the opening of the Canterbury Tales and the pilgrimage itself. Readers can trace the imagery of transformation from life to death throughout the tale. The tale also contains elements of the Black Mass. These elements reduce Christ's sacrifice to the merely physical.
Wilson, Grace G. "'Amonges othere wordes wyse': The Medieval Seneca and the Canterbury Tales." 28 (1993): 135-45.
Seneca acquired two reputations in the Middle Ages. First, he was a moral philosopher and, second, a "hackneyed aphorist" (136). Chaucer refers to Seneca more than any other philosopher in the Canterbury Tales. In the Parson's Tale and the Tale of Melibee, Chaucer uses Seneca straight, and those tales generally have less audience appeal. Tales where Seneca's morals are used more ironically seem to generate greater audience appreciation. A number of characters refer to Seneca and his ideas, for example: the Wife of Bath uses Seneca in her tale as part of the curtain lecture. The Pardoner, Summoner, Friar, Man of Law, Monk, Merchant, and Manciple all refer to Seneca, but use his teachings ironically. Seneca's teachings do not seem to be the object of Chaucer's ridicule. Instead, they help to characterize those who refer to him.
Wurtele, Douglas. "Some Uses of Physiognomical Lore in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales." 17 (1982): 130-41.
Physiognomy was a popular science in the Middle Ages, especially as a mode of popular wisdom. The details about the Miller's appearance indicate a complex personality when read in light of physiognomical lore. The Pardoner may also be read in such a light. For both the use of physiognomy creates complex irony.