Blasphemy in The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale Analysis

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The Pardoner, in Chaucer’s Prologue and Tale, is a dishonest character who shares a story involving three individuals who have sinned.

The Pardoner’s Tale, along with the three men in the story, portrays blasphemy in both the tale’s structure and the characters themselves. This theme of blasphemy is prevalent throughout The Canterbury Tales, particularly in The Pardoner’s Tale. The Pardoner, being a major character in the story, exhibits a strong inclination towards blasphemy. Blasphemy refers to any disrespectful or profane act, utterance, or writing regarding God or a sacred entity. It also encompasses the act of claiming attributes and rights reserved for God.

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In the General Prologue, the Pardoner is introduced with a repulsive appearance that reflects his inner corruption. His hair is described as thin, long, and stringy, resembling yellow wax. His eyes glare like those of a hare. He carries a knapsack on his lap, filled with pardons that he obtained from Rome.

According to the text, the individual in question would bring these items of religious significance to rural areas and manipulate financially vulnerable individuals, earning more money in a single day than they would typically make in two months. This person deceived both the clergy and the general public, as “there was no other pardoner like him.” He took great pride in his shrewdness and expertise in his line of work. One of his most egregious offenses was his assertion of holiness and the power of his sacred relics.

He quickly admits that he is deceitful and his purpose “is nothing but to win, And nothing for correction of sin.” He only confesses to being a fraud once more: he informs the pilgrims at the end of his story that only Christ’s pardon has the ability to mend the soul and promptly attempts to sell his fraudulent relics and pardons. The reason why the Pardoner tells his tale is because he personifies the very sins he is preaching against. At times, he digresses into sermon.

In the first warning, the speaker declares that money is the root of all evil, revealing his greed and instantly exposing his hypocrisy. He then launches into a lengthy criticism of indulgence, beginning with the sins of drunkenness. Quoting holy scripture as evidence, he asserts that excess and debauchery are found in wine and intoxication. If this assertion is true and seen as blasphemous, it further confirms him as a blasphemer. To emphasize his dedication to the story, he interrupts the narrative to consume a drink, asserting that he will now commence the tale after having “imbibed a draught of corny ale.”

The preacher interrupts himself and declares, “Oh gluttony, so full of wickedness! The first cause of our confusion… The world was corrupted by gluttony.”

The Pardoner is an extremely greedy man, who is so obsessed with money that it makes him a glutton. He also indulges excessively in the pursuit of “drynke and …

“Indulging in cake,” he consumes excessive food and drink until he is fully satisfied. The Pardoner subsequently criticizes gambling, proclaiming, “Now I will condemn gambling. Gambling is the root cause of deceit.” He claims that this behavior is sacrilegious and it diminishes the strength of influential individuals.

Next, he proceeds to swearing, which is greatly detestable, and false swearing is even more reprehensible. The Pardoner asserts that God has strictly prohibited swearing and discusses the commandment that prohibits using the Lord’s name in a futile manner. After concluding his extensive sermon, which comprised two hundred lines, the Pardoner resumes recounting his narrative. The individuals in his tale are guilty of all the sins mentioned earlier.

The Pardoner appears to combine all sins into one category, blasphemy, during his speech. The story begins with “younge folk that haunteden folye, As riot, hazard, stywes, and taverns…”

They dance and play games both day and night, and they also eat and drink excessively. From the start, it is clear that the three characters in the story are intoxicated, satiated, and engaging in gambling to an extreme degree. They are indulging in gluttony and therefore disrespecting God. When they learn of a friend’s death, they are informed that Death was responsible for taking his life. In their drunken rage, they abruptly leave the tavern, swearing many gruesome oaths, tearing apart Christ’s blessed body. They vow that Death will be killed if they can catch him. The three men are deeply upset and declare their intention to avenge their friend’s death by eliminating Death himself.

The Pardoner declares that their pledge to each other is sacrilegious, as it causes them to fragment Christ’s sacred body. While in pursuit of Death, they encounter an elderly man who expresses his desire to die, saying, “Alas, Death does not want to take my life.” Mistakenly believing that the old man is Death’s informant, the three foolish men demand to know Death’s whereabouts. In response, the old man instructs them to ascend the hill where they will find Death waiting beneath a tree.

When the men arrive at their destination, they discover gold and make a decision to retain it. To determine who will go fetch bread and wine, they draw straws, resulting in the youngest member being chosen. While the youngest individual is away, he blasphemously invokes the Lord’s name, saying, ‘O Lord! If only I could possess all this treasure by myself, there would be no one happier on Earth than me.’ Meanwhile, the other two individuals scheme to murder the young sinner, enabling them to keep a greater share of the gold.

The young individual poisons the wine. Once the other two individuals kill the young one, they drink the wine and both perish. Another form of blasphemy exists in the story: a satirical portrayal of God, manifested through the narrative. The primary objective for the men in the tale is to eliminate Death. This notion of eradicating Death is a customary representation of Christ’s Crucifixion.

The travelers’ duty mocks Jesus’ role in the Crucifixion. In a parallel satire, the two older travelers conspire to murder the younger one. They deceive him by sending him to town for bread and wine. Upon his return, they “rive him thurge the sides tweye,” ripping his body just like Christ’s body was torn.

Another way in which the text presents blasphemy is by comparing the Pardoner to a snake. Examples of this include lines such as “Thanne wol I stinge him with my tonge smerte” and “Thus spitte I out my venym under hewe”. These metaphors imply that the Pardoner is similar to the snake in the Garden of Eden, as he makes false and empty promises. Overall, Chaucer’s tale is abundant in blasphemy, evident not only in the storyteller and the characters, but also in the story itself.

The Pardoner is guilty of blasphemy due to his empty pardons, fake relics, blasphemous tale, and gluttony. The men in his story are also guilty of blasphemy as they swear, drink, overindulge, and gamble. The Pardoner’s Tale portrays damnation, where we witness not only God punishing them for their sins, but them knowingly causing their own damnation.

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Blasphemy in The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale Analysis. (2017, Dec 22). Retrieved from

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