Illustrate from ‘The Pardoner’s Tale and Prologue’ the Pardoner’s skill as a preacher

People sought salvation with devotion as The Black Death swept across Europe. The pre-science era when Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales meant priests faced an increasing workload, introducing monetary payments in exchange for remission of sin or penances (punishment). The responsibility of the collection of this money went to quaestores.
These quaestores1 did not always have a firm connection with the Church, and definitely not with the artes praedicandi, the collected thought embodied in the theory and art of preaching. However, the new direction the Church took became a rampant breeding ground for forgers and confidence tricksters such as the Pardoner, preying upon the fears of the diminishing population for personal gain.
The artes praedicandi was divided into two areas, the moral and the technical. With the moral, the preacher, genuinely inspired, was to be the mouthpiece for the Holy Spirit. There is no question that Chaucer’s Pardoner is a completely immoral creature, his motives selfish and his interests in human art more important than guidance from God. However, in the technical aspect of preaching he excels. Medieval practice and sermon called upon the preacher to provide religious teaching as well as entertainment.2 Gardiner writes of elements of convention in the traditional Medieval religious lesson and the Pardoner covers all of them.

The first, statement of theme, is a biblical text and in the Pardoner’s case it is, ‘Radix Malorum Est Cupiditas’, the love of money is the root of all evil.3 ‘The Exemplum’, a story to illustrate the text, is taken care of in the tale of the riotours’ search for death. The discourse of the sins of drunkenness, gluttony, gambling, blasphemy and swearing could be considered the dilatatio, detailed explaining of the text, and set after the story’s close, the peroration, a discussion and application of the text.
The Pardoner’s Prologue sets up a universally held view, that the Pardoner is full of the very sins he preaches against, he seeks to become sin itself and is master of his own damnation. The Pardoner has with him firm establishment of authority and credibility, ‘bulles of popes and cardinales’ that grant him powers of absolution.
“And I assoille him by the auctoritee
Which that by bulle ygraunted was to me”
By this gaude have I wonne, yeer by yeer,
An hundred mark sith I was pardoner”
(103-6)
The Pardoner also has a piece of the sail of the ship St. Peter had sailed upon the Sea of Galilee, the Virgin Mary’s veil and a relic that cures jealousy and helps livestock and their farmers and the magic mitten! As part of the audience of pilgrims and readers, we are aware that these holy relics are pure counterfeit, but to the frightened believer in an age of magic surrounded by death, the Pardoner’s offer of help seemed sensible rather than silly. Chaucer gives us here a visual image laid so over the top of ‘heer as yelow as wex’, that it allows room for him to describe the physical movements of the fake. The Pardoner evangelises with energy-
“Thanne payne I me to strecche forth the nekke
And est and west upon the peple I bekke,
As dooth a dowve sittinge on a berne
Minde handes an my tonge goon so yerne”
(108-11)
And authority-
“I stonde lyk a clerk in my pulpet”
(107)
His storytelling is full of naturalistic dialogue and personification, the ‘riotoures thre’ representing the condemned sins of drunkenness, gambling and blasphemy. The latter of these also helps to pull his congregation or customers in with the tactic of shock. He incorporates everyday experience in to the sermon. Cookery and wines are mentioned in verse of political consumer advice. There is even a laugh to be had when he describes a drunk man snoring:
“And thurgh thy dronke nose semeth the soun
As though thou soydest ay ‘Sampsoun! Sampsoun!’
And yet, God woot, Sampsoun drank nevere no wyn”
(267-9)
If that doesn’t seal the deal, the one about the adulterous wife with two to three priests should! It is clear the Pardoner values entertainment highly, and this is in place to draw in those who have no interest in God.
An important component of fourteenth century ministering was the recommendation of the use of ensamples, specific incidents used to prove or push a general assertion. To the “lewed” the Pardoner may appear as a learned man,, drawing on works from the stoic philosopher Seneca and philosopher and scientist Avicenna (Ibn Sina). He makes reference to De Contemptu Mundi by Pope Innocent III, the theologian St. Jerome’s Adversus Jovinianum and St. John of Salisbury. His knowledge of the Bible is as impressive as his secular incorporatings. He quotes or hints at the contents of Genesis, Proverbs, Ecclesiasticus, the Gospels and the epistles of St.Paul. He refers to a wide variety of texts, and if they were obscure the more likely they would be associated solely with the Pardoner, perhaps of his own invention.
His tongue of “hauteyn” tone uses a number of stylistic devices, common among legitimate preachers. Repetition is the most common; overuse of the biblical passage and over-stressing of the same five sins is practised, making sure words are stuck firmly in the memory or minds of the listeners through its amplification and emphasis. Onomatopeia, as mentioned is used to imitate the heavy breathing of a drunk, and the glutton,
“That may go thurgh the golet softe and swoote,
Of spicerie of leef and bark and roote”
(257-8)
He also uses apostrophe,
“O wombe! O bely! O stinking cod!”
(248)
His narration is packed with exclamation, as he uses heavy punctuation to increase emotional impact. His tale and sermon manipulate suspense, his voice, playing each of the parts, shifts in tone and volume. From complexity to simplicity and back, the lesson is rich in climax and anti-climax. He is a natural performer and a cunning predator,
“For though myself be a ful vicious man,
A moral tale yet I yow telle kan,
Which I am wont to preche for to winne”
(173-5)
c. Andrew Luke 2002

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