The Pardoner's Tale

Rachel Stearns

The Tale Summary


The tale begins when the Pardoner explains the methods he uses when he preaches. With his fake relics he explains he can do nothing for the sinners and invites the good people to buy his objects in hopes of getting them to absolve their sins. As if that would help anything. Then he stands at the pulpit in church and preaches about sin and greed ironically trying to get members to donate money to him. He is also ironically guilty about the same sin he preaches about.


In Medieval Belgium at the height of the black plague, the reader is introduced to three pretty drunken merrymen sitting in an inn and eating, drinking and "swearing oaths worthy of damnation". The three men pass the marking of a coffin and ask the servant who'd died. When he tells them that the dead man was a friend who was stabbed in the back by a thief called "Death" the men decide they must go out to murder him. Upon searching, they find an old man who's trying to exchange his youth for old age and not even Death will take it. The three then ask where they could find Death and he points to a tree (where he says Death is) and they then rush to it only to find a bag of gold coins. Before night comes, they decide to keep the gold and draw straws to see which guy is going back to get food and wine. The youngest of the three draws the shortest straw and the other two devise to kill him. The youngest goes to purchase poison which he then adds to the wine. You see where this is going. They all end up finding Death.

The Tale of the Three Brothers anyone?

In the last book of Harry Potter (The Deathly Hollows) there is a part where Rowling addresses the Tale of the Three Brothers (The Tales of Beedle the Bard) which as you probably guessed has to do with three brothers and Death. It's pretty awesome that there's a connection between the two literary works.

Who is the Pardoner?

The pardoner is a very feminine looking man with blonde hair, a stringy voice and a smooth hairless face. He's also well read and psychologically astute. Also, he has profited significantly from his profession. Yet Chaucer places him at the very bottom of humanity because he uses the church and holy, religious objects as means to make money off of them.

"Radix malorum est cupidatis" ("Love of money is the root of all evil")

So, each relic the Pardoner sells is supposed to bring him money right? Well, in emphasizing this, he sells more and gains more money for himself. This is an example of a double irony: His love for money is the root of his evil, yet his relic sales depend upon the buyer's love of money where he only sells to good people to make a profit.

What actually is a Pardoner?

Someone who travels about the countryside selling church pardons (a remission of the legal consequences of an offense)

Medieval Vocab

Mirth - amusement (as expressed in laughter)

Ribaldry - referring to sexual matters in an amusingly rude or irreverent way

Lechery - excessive or offensive sexual desire

Stile - an arrangement of steps that allows people but not animals to climb over a fence or wall

Rake - a fashionable or wealthy man of dissolute or promiscuous habits

Look the dude's at the bottom of the moral list

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What is a moral tale and what does this tale help us understand about the Middle Ages?

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows "Three Brothers Story"