The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Braswell, Mary Flowers. "Chaucer's Palimpsest: Judas Iscariot and the Pardoner's Tale." 29 (1995): 303-10.
The story of Judas Iscariot's betrayal of Christ appears beneath the surface of the text of the Pardoner's Tale, adding an additional layer to the black Communion of the three rioters. Chaucer uses a number of details, like the association of Judas with greed, the oak tree, and the conflation of the story of Judas with that of the Wandering Jew, to add a darker level to his tale.
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.
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.