The Pardoner’s Tale is primarily based around the concepts of hypocrisy and morality. The initial part of the tale sees the Pardoner introduce himself as an immoral character, then proceeds to start telling a moral tale, an exemplum. Although it is initially unclear why the Pardoner is being so honest about his being a conman, there are subtle clues throughout his introduction, such as mention of a “morste and corny ale” (Chaucer, 222) that suggest his openness may be due to drunkenness. The Pardoner’s prologue is also full of boastful remarks about the people that he has tricked, rather than remorse. He tells the reader about his methods for conning the pilgrims into buying fake religious relics – “he that his hand wol putte in this mitayn/He shal have multiplying of his greyn” (Chaucer, 373/374). This promotes the idea that the Pardoner is not ashamed of his success, offering these objects to the congregation as a way of gaining money.

You're lucky! Use promo "samples20"
and get a custom paper on
"The Pardoner"
with 20% discount!
Order Now

In contrast, the actual tale that the Pardoner tells is full of morality. The Pardoner himself condemns a number of so-called tavern sins – gluttony, drinking, gambling and swearing – and uses the scriptures themselves to support this disdain. The tale revolves around three young men who go to avenge Death, but after finding gold coins they forget about their search. The moral of the tale, in the words of the Pardoner, is “Radix malorum est cupidtas” (Greed is the roof of evils) (Sutton 15). Again, this shows the Pardoner as being a particularly hypocritical character, in that greed is the main motivation for his trickery of the parishoners in his prologue. Chaucer also uses a number of innuendoes in his prologue, such as “The kneeling posture to which the Pardoner summons the pilgrims would place their noses right before his deficient crotch” (Sutton 15), again showing a hypocrisy on the part of the Pardoner in being openly disdainful of adultery and sex in the tale he tells.

Chaucer also portrays the Pardoner as being openly deceptive – the bones he carries belong to pigs and not saints, as he says. He carries a cross studded with metal, rather than precious stones. To take the analysis further, there are suggestions that this is a hint at Chaucer’s dislike for religious profit, through which the Pardoner acts as a medium to show distain for the clergy (Sutton 57). The use of satire and hypocrisy throughout this tale further cement the ideas that Chaucer is not positive towards the use of monetary value to support the Church, a common feeling in the time that the Tales were written (Kantor & Wright 89).

The Pardoner is, overall, an untrustworthy character. He sings a ballad “Com hider, love, to me!” in the general prologue (Chaucer, 672) with the Summoner, which furthers the idea that he is completely untrustworthy and does not follow the virtue of his profession. He does not have any gender or sexual orientation, which both challenges social norms of the time (Kantor & Wright 22) and further provokes the reader into having distrust of the character – if he cannot even be open about these things, it is unlikely that his tale will be full of truths (Kantor & Wright 23). He is also selfish – “But that is nat my principal entente;/I preche nothing but for coveitise” (Chaucer, 432-433), which again juxtaposes nicely with the tale of morality and greed that he goes on to relate. Overall, it is evident that Chaucer used the Pardoner as a way of showing the hypocrisy of the clergy and uses literary features like hypocrisy and disdain to tell them. The Pardoner is, ultimately, a greedy and untrustworthy character who uses others for financial gain.